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Birte Bruchmüller

A re-evaluation of Nordic symbolism and Art Nouveau

In my dissertation project, I aim to shed new light on Nordic symbolism and Art Nouveau. By exploring a qualitative choice of Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and Danish visual artists that were based on the continent around the turn of the 20th century (mostly in Paris, Rome, Florence, or a couple of cities in Belgium or Germany), I deal with an international symbolist and Art Nouveau stance parallel to the dominating Nordic art historical understanding of symbolism as deeply intertwined with national romanticism. Instead of examining well-explored Nordic art objects that are understood as both national romanticist and symbolistic visual expressions, I study the quite unexplored late 19th-century production of painters and graphic artists such as Tyra Kleen (1874-1951), Magnus Enckell (1870-1925), Ellen Thesleff (1869-1954), Beda Stjernschantz (1867-1910) or Olof Sager-Nelson (1868-1896). These selected painters’ creative production didn’t seem to be concerned at all with paying tribute to a specific nation and its nation-building process through their art, but rather their visual expressions related to a pure, universal, and timeless art that in that sense was incompatible to national means of expressions.

While my research project intends to disconnect the thinking of and writing about Nordic symbolism and Art Nouveau from being an exclusively national romanticist enterprise, it is also concerned with the exploration of potentially more distinct Nordic symbolistic and Art Nouveau visual expressions. Thus, my project involves also an examination of the impact that classical art in general and Italian Renaissance art in particular might have had on the selected art objects.

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