Charles Filiger (1863-1928) was another artist associated for a time with the Salon de la Rose+Croix in the 1890s.
Charles Filiger, La Vierge et deux anges ou La Madone aux vers luisants
Sir Philip Burne-Jones (1861–1926) was the son of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, and a highly successful artist in his own right, both as a painter and as an illustrator.
His most famous painting, The Vampire, inspired an equally famous poem by Rudyard Kipling, which in turn inspired the 1915 film A Fool There Was, which made a star of Theda Bara and created the movie vamp.
Although he was overshadowed by his more famous father he had an interesting style of his own, and he certainly chose some intriguing subject matter.
Sir Philip Burne-Jones, The Gallows Ghost, 1895
Sir Philip Burne-Jones, Earth-rise from the Moon, 1891
Sir Philip Burne-Jones, The Vampire, 1897
Rupprecht has lived an adventurous life in early sixteenth century Germany, having been a university student, a landsknecht in the wars in Italy, and a trader in Spain’s colonies on the New World. His life is changed forever when, quite by chance, he meets a strange woman named Renata in an inn in Germany. She appears to be possessed by devils, but it transpires that she is haunted by the presence of an angel named Madiël, a presence that has been with her since childhood.
She desired nothing more than physical union with this angel, but because of her sexual lust for Madiël he abandoned her. She has been seeking him ever since, and believing him to be incarnated in the person of a handsome nobleman, Count Heinrich, she seduced him. Now he has abandoned her as well. She enlists the help of Rupprecht to find her beloved, and this begins a strange and obsessive relationship between Renata and Rupprecht. At times she seems to love Rupprecht, at other times she is repelled by him. At times she is overcome by lust and their relationship becomes passionately sexual, and then she is overcome by horror and disgust and will not let him touch her or even speak to her. Rupprecht’s suffering is intense, but he is unable to break free of her spell, and becomes involved in her plans to summon the aid of demons to find the true object of her love, the angel Madiël.
In the course of their occult experiments Rupprecht makes the acquaintance of other celebrated questers for occult knowledge, including Henry Cornelius Agrippa and Doctor Faustus. Rupprecht is prepared to sacrifice his immortal soul if only he can make Renata happy.
The Russian decadent poet and novelist Valery Bruisov published The Fiery Angel in 1909. It’s a novel of the occult, and an exceptionally good one. It’s also a story of obsessive and very unhealthy love, and a tale of religious, spiritual and sexual obsession. The extreme unhealthiness of the relationship between Renata and Rupprecht is its main claim to being a work of decadent fiction, and certainly it’s a relationship whose destructive qualities are on a truly epic scale. Whether Renata’s angel actually exists remains obscure. While it is possible that he is nothing more than the product of her own frenzied erotic longings, Bruisov is not entirely sceptical of the reality of the occult, so the true nature of Renata’s obsessions remains shrouded in mystery, which is of course as it should be.
Bruisov lovingly recreates the world of late medieval Europe, and in Renata and Rupprecht he has given us two of the most ill-starred lovers in all of fiction. Renata is both heroine and villainess, while Rupprecht’s own motives are also somewhat ambiguous. It’s a fascinating and memorable book, the product of a specifically Russian brand of decadence, and I recommend it very highly indeed.
I thought we’d discussed Gustav-Adolf Mossa (1883-1971) here, but I can’t find any previous posting. has just posted about him, and I think he’s definitely worth a mention here as well. Born in Nice, Mossa’s Symbolist period lasted from around 1900 to 1911, but his Symbolist work was apparently concealed from the public until his death.
Gustav-Adolf Mossa, Salomé, 1908
Gustav-Adolf Mossa, Elle, 1905
Gustav-Adolf Mossa, The Price of Stupidity
Gustav-Adolf Mossa, Eva Pandora, 1907
Gustav-Adolf Mossa, The Woman with the Skeletons (Lady Macbeth), 1906
Gustav-Adolf Mossa, La dame de Nice, 1904
William Etty (1787-1849) was an English academic painter who achieved considerable popularity in his lifetime but is now somewhat neglected. I wasn’t really aware of him until I read Peter Gay’s Education of the Senses book, which mentions him quite a few times in relation to 19th century attitudes towards the nude, and especially the nude and classical subject matter. Etty certainly painted nudes obsessively. Pandora is a painting I find strangely appealing.
William Etty, Andromeda, 1840
William Etty, Pandora, 1824
William Etty, Candaules, King of Lydia, Shews his Wife by Stealth to Gyges, One of his Ministers, as She Goes to Bed, 1830
Arthur Machen is known (insofar as he is known at all) as a writer of supernatural fiction, and is sometimes considered to be a representative of Late Victorian Gothic. Whether his novel The Hill of Dreams is really a novel of the supernatural is hard to say.
The hero is Lucian Taylor, the son of an impoverished English country clergyman. In adolescence Lucian has a mystical, visionary experience in the remains of an old Roman fort. Whether he has really come into contact with occult forces that linger there, or whether the visionary experience comes entirely from within, is never specified and in the end it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that Lucian, who is already obsessed with “useless reading and unlikely knowledge”, feels himself from this point on to be set apart from the rest of humanity. He dreams of becoming a writer.
The Hill of Dreams is a book about books, and the writing of books. It’s a book about visionary experiences. It’s also a book about a young man whose entire life is taken over by such experiences. He becomes more and more cut off from the general run of humanity, and from what ordinary people consider to be reality.
This is also very much a decadent book, and can be considered to be one of the finest flowerings of the English Decadence, even though that movement is generally considered to have run its course by the time it was published in 1907. The writing is gorgeous, highly charged and subtly erotic. The whole book has an intensely visionary quality. There’s a sense of another reality intersecting our everyday reality. This other reality cannot be perceived by everyone, but for those attuned to such things it may be more real than everyday reality.
This is an absolutely superb book. One of the most exciting books I’ve read in a long time. Very highly recommended.