Worlds behind the World we know
What guise does evil bear in the age of science?
In the 19th century, enquiries into the visible world ousted the Christian concepts of Heaven and Hell. Human life was studied from the vantage point of social and biological factors. Yet resistance to this scientistic worldview was mounted in art and literature at the end of the century, giving prominence to the dark side of the soul. Some viewed civilisation as alternating between phases of high culture and periods of decadence. The turn of the century saw the spread of a pessimistic, ”doomy” mood. Characteristic of this was the negative image of woman as a man-murdering ”femme fatale”.
This led to a development parallel to Impressionism at the threshold to Mod-ernism: the art movement known as Symbolism. It was preoccupied with the mysterious and the ineffable, with questions of religion and mystic truths. For the Symbolists, it was the inner being of things that demanded expression, and not outer appearances. Their rejection of unambiguous content matter was underlined by the ornamental, decorative composition of their works. Both with regard to form and colour, as well as to the subject and content, they were intent on unsettling and bewildering the viewer and holding up a mirror to the way humanity viewed itself. The spectrum of their works ranged from the marked abstraction of the artists around Paul Gauguin, to private mythologies steeped in personal meanings, as exemplified by Odilon Redon or James Ensor. Both Expressionism as well as Surrealism had their roots in Symbolism.