Mystical Symbolism: The Salon de la Rose + Croix in Paris 1892-1897

Mystical Symbolism
The Salon de la Rose + Croix in Paris 1892-1897
Salomon R. Guggenheim Museum
June 30th - October 4th, 2017

The newly opened "Mystical Symbolism" exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum is a rather small, curious show that focuses on figurative art through the lens of Romantic painting that appeared at a Paris-based salon titled Rose + Croix. Founded by Joséphin Péladan, the Salon de la Rose + Croix was a 5-year phenomenon from 1892 to 1897 that focused on Romantic art with the focus on Péladan himself through the practice of occultism.

Carlos Schwabe. Poster for the First Salon de la Rose+Croix, 1892. Lithograph, 198 x 80.5 cm. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Given anonymously, 1987. Digital image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, New York        

Occultism was popular throughout Europe at this time since the removal of Divine Right from the societies of France and Germany was still fairly recent. The Symbolist movement revealed work by artists who longed for a Renaissance revival, while referencing back to a specific point in time before modern equality and emancipation had been integrated into everyday society.

Jean Delville. The Death of Orpheus (Orphée mort), 1893. Oil on canvas, 79.3 x 99.2 cm. Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Belgium © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SABAM, Brussels. Photo: © Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Belgium, Brussels:  J. Geleyns-Ro scan.

The Guggenheim features elaborate dreamy paintings by artists such as Georges DeFeure, Pierre Amédée Marcel-Béronneau, Ferdinand Hodler, Fernand Khnopff, Georges Rouault, Jan Toorop and Félix Vallotton that appropriate famous works of art from the past while searching for something new.  Jean Delville's "The Death of Orpheus (Orphée mort)," (1893) compliments an earlier painting by Gustave Moreau titled "Orpheus (Orphée)" (1865) that focus on the hero of music, who brought peace with harmony.  Moreau presented this Greek mortal as an object discovered by a virtuous-looking woman, most likely Eurydice, with long, braided, yellow hair.  However Delville's composition reflects the loss of virtue that emerges from music along with the desire for renewal.

"Orpheus in Hades (Orphée)," (1897) by Marcel-Béronneau moves further and breathes new life into the figure of the sleeping Barberini Faun made during 2nd century BCE of the Hellenistic era. In this painting, the artist presents the faun as a standing - rather than reclining - figure while the details seen across the face and figure match that seen in the marble sculpture located in the Glyptothek of Munich, Germany.  In addition, the dark foreground and background shine a spotlight on the pale white figure of this satyr who appears to play a harp that falls short of bringing the dead back to life. 

Pierre Amédée Marcel-Béronneau. Orpheus in Hades (Orphée), 1897. Oil on canvas, 194 x 156 cm. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Marseille. Photo: © Claude Almodovar/Collection du Musée des Beaux-Arts, Marseille.

A two-color blue and white poster made by Carlos Schwabe in 1892 on the occasion of the first Salon de la Rose+Croix shows two women, dressed in Art Nouveau gowns, holding hands and flowers aloft while standing on antique stone steps that are partially covered with overgrown vines and flowers. A young woman, seen in the front right corner, looks up to the standing pair while she waits for her form and figure to grow out from the plant that still hangs like a necklace from her fingertips.

Parisian femininity was a central motif in society at this time. Women hosted most of the salons in Paris and considered new forms of art, music, theater and writing in order to continue the society's larger break away from the luxuries of the old aristocracy. As stated in Paris 1900 La Ville spectacle (2014), the apolitical Parisienne stood for the bold future of the new century. When the Eiffel Tower was unveiled in 1889, this new monument stood as the centerpiece of the first Universal Exposition and symbolized the victory of the Republic over centuries of revolutionary war. The Salon de la Rose + Croix is unique in that it focused on its founder Joséphin Péladan, even though the theme of woman appeared as a consistent subject throughout the salons he had hosted. But as curator Vivien Greene points out early on in her catalogue essay: "Péladan flaunted his anti-republican and pro-monarchy stance," therefore leaving no question as to why this particular group had been forgotten within the tides of history.

Jill Conner, New York