Symbolism – Giving shape to ideas



With so few major works coming up for sale, prints constitute the majority of sales in this segment.

The leading lights of symbolism are Edward Coley BURNE-JONES (English), Pierre PUVIS DE CHAVANNES, Gustave MOREAU, Félicien ROPS and Odilon REDON (all French), Arnold BÖCKLIN (Swiss), James ENSOR (Belgian) and Edvard MUNCH (Norwegian).

Gustave Moreau, one of the core figures in the symbolist movement, taught art to Albert Marquet, Henri Matisse and Georges Rouault. At his death in 1898, Moreau donated his town mansion – including his workshop with 1200 paintings and water-colours and more than 10,000 drawings – to the French State. Having sold little during his lifetime and with the vast majority of his works being conserved in the donated mansion/museum, good quality oil paintings by Moreau are often sold at auction in a price range between EUR 150,000 and 1,000,000. Both Gustave Moreau and the Englishman Edward Burne-Jones showed a particular penchant for representations of femmes fatales in dream-like situations. In June 2005, a large format work by Edward Burne-Jones entitled Une Naïade, sold at Christie’s London for GBP 1,000,000 (EUR 1,491,900). Idealised women was also a favourite theme of Félicien Rops who with his “Ropsienne ” created an image of “a powerful, supple and languorous woman”, a sort of irresistible beauty, laden with erotic and morbid overtones – a fertile blend of Eros and Thanatos. Rops was a master of prints. His lithographs and etchings account for 91% of his public market, hence 90% of auction sales of works by Rops go under the hammer for less than EUR 1,500. Having painted essentially murals, including the decorations of the Pantheon and the Sorbonne, works by Puvis de Chavannes are also rare on the market. Always searching for conceptual beauty and purety, his works tend towards a figurative simplicity that earned the admiration of Gauguin and members of the Nabi group. The majority of Puvis de Chavannes’ works change hands for less than EUR 10,000 and some small sketches and oils sell for less than EUR 1000. In 1998, his Mère et enfant dans un paysage, a small oil on canvas, fetched EUR 143! (at G.A. Key in Aylsham, UK).

In the case of Odilon Redon, the market appears to be more interested in his representations of flowers than in his women. Over the last five years, his flower oil paintings have fetched between EUR 150,000 and 550,000, the same sort of price range that his superb – and large – mythological themes fetched in the past. Redon’s pastel works depicting flowers are also very popular and fetch high prices. In February 2006, the pastel Fleurs des champs dans un vase au long col sold at Christie’s in London for GBP 220,000 (EUR 320,562). Redon’s landscapes and portraits of woman are more affordable. Art buyers can acquire a Redon oil painting for between EUR 25,000 and 50,000 on average, and a pastel for between EUR 2,000 et 10,000. Like Redon and like Gustave Moreau, Arnold Böcklin was rescued from oblivion by the surrealists. Böcklin’s phantasmagorical world is populated by nymphs, naïades, fauns and centaurs which are represented in rigorously structured compositions with more than a hint of realism. Few of his oil paintings come to market and his small format prints, inks and water-colours can be bought for only EUR 100 to EUR 500.