March 6th, 2013 by Leo Plaw Other language versions    

The Angel of the Odd – Dark Romanticism from Goya to Max Ernst

Carlos Schwabe (1866-1926), The Death of the Gravedigger,  1900

Carlos Schwabe (1866-1926),
The Death of the Gravedigger,

The exhibition, “The Angel of the Odd – Dark Romanticism from Goya to Max Ernst” opens at the Musée d’Orsay. It brings together around 200 works: paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures from the late 18th century to the early 20th century, as well as twelve films from the inter-war period.

In the 1930’s, it was literary critic and art historian Mario Praz who first used the term “Dark Romanticism”, thus designating a wide spectrum of literature and artistic creation, which from the 1760s onwards exploited the shadows, excesses and irrational elements that lurked behind the apparent triumph of enlightened Reason.

Dark Gothic novels first appeared in England at the end of the 18th century and were instantly a great success. Although set in the contemporary world, they were mainly concerned with mystery and heightened emotions that could make the reader shiver with fear as well as pleasure, and explored not only the terror we all have of the unknown, but also our fascination with the sadistic and the grotesque.

Painters, engravers and sculptors from all over Europe, London and Paris, Madrid and Dresden, striving to compete with poets, playwrights and novelists, expressed this dark side visually in a multitude of ways, plunging the viewer into a dizzying spectacle of the horrific and the grotesque: Goya and Géricault presented us with the senseless atrocities of war and the superstitions of their time, Fuseli and Delacroix produced their passionate interpretations of the works of Dante, Milton, Shakespeare and Goethe by giving substance to the ghosts, witches and devils in them, whereas C.D. Friedrich and Carl Blechen cast the viewer into enigmatic, gloomy landscapes.

Starting in the 1880s, seeing vanity, and the ambiguity in the notion of progress, many artists took over the legacy of dark romanticism turned to the occult, reviving myths and exploiting new ideas about dreams. Following the horror stories of Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Théophile Gautier and Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, they deliberately asked difficult questions in order to confront humanity with its fears and contradictions, savagery and evil hidden in every human being, the risk of mass degeneration, the harrowing strangeness behind the deceptive reassurance of daily life.

Dark Romanticism regained its momentum when Europe finally emerged from the nightmare of the First World War. Long familiar with the malevolent fairies and creatures of Goya, German Romanticism and Symbolism, the Surrealists took the driving forces of the unconscious, of dreams and of intoxication as the basis for artistic creation, completing the triumph of the imagination over the principle of reality, and thus, putting the finishing touches to the spirit itself of Dark Romanticism.

At the same time, the film seized on Frankenstein, Faust and other masterpieces of this genre whose unforgettable scenes have firmly established them in the collective imagination. By calling forth the visionary creations of Goya, Fuseli, Blake, Delacroix, Hugo, Friedrich, Böcklin, Moreau, Stuck, Ensor, Mucha, Redon, Dali, Ernst, Bellmer, Klee and numerous other artists and film makers, the exhibition also enables us to reassess and gain new insight into the literary and artistic sources of the world of dark fantasy.

The Angel of the Odd. Dark Romanticism from Goya to Max Ernst

Duration: March 5 until June 9, 2013

Musée d’Orsay
62, rue de Lille
75343 Paris Cedex 07

+33 1 40 49 48 14


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