The German composer and theatre director Richard Wagner (1813–1883) had become a cult figure by the fin de siècle.
His influence extended much further, however. Printmakers were inspired by Wagner’s ideas about the gesamtkunstwerk, in which different disciplines combined to achieve a total art that was greater than the sum of its parts.
It is striking how often printmakers chose to depict figures playing music.
In some cases, they attempted to emulate the music itself. Alexandre Charpentier, for instance, surrounded his Girl with a Violin with subtle flowering vines in relief. These decorations have the same abstract quality and rhythm as the musical notes flowing from her instrument.
Félix Vallotton, meanwhile, created the atmospheric print series Instruments de musique, in which the musicians appear totally absorbed in the interior world of their performance. The shapes of the furniture and the patterns of the wallpaper echo the instruments being played.
Pierre-Louis Mathieu, La génération symboliste, Geneva 1990
Henri Dorra (red.), Symbolist Art Theories. A Critical Anthology, Berkeley 1994
Ronald de Leeuw, ‘Wagner and Painting’, in Symbolism in Art: in Search of a Definition, Amsterdam 1994