About the Network

Ferdinand Hodler, Lake Thun and the Stockhorn Mountains, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Ferdinand Hodler, Lake Thun and the Stockhorn Mountains, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

The network takes as its intellectual premise a resurgence of scholarly interest in Symbolism and as its public manifestation three exhibitions which will be staged between 2011 and 2013. These are The Nabis and Photography (Amsterdam, 2011), Symbolist Landscape (Amsterdam/Edinburgh, 2012), and a large-scale survey of Symbolism (Paris, 2012). Its partners are the Visual Arts Research Institute Edinburgh (with the National Gallery of Scotland and the University of Edinburgh), the Van Gogh Museum, the Musée d’Orsay, the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, and the University of Geneva. The goal is rigorously to redefine how we understand European Symbolism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Network will connect scholars from universities and museums alike through a series of conferences and seminars in Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Paris.



Van Gogh's Wheatfield with a Reaper

Wheatfield with a Reaper, Vincent Van Gogh 1889, Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)



The Project

While the project will be centred on the visual arts, it will – indeed must – take an adventurous interdisciplinary perspective. Outlining only some of the questions which the Network will address makes this evident.

  • Is it accurate to say that Symbolism was marginal and elitist, or was it not rather deeply concerned to engage with new discoveries in the sciences, especially biology and psychology?
  • Can Symbolism’s exploration of multi-layered sensations and somatic states be considered an apogee of scientific naturalism, or a revolutionary kind of creative expression?
  • To what extent can the internationalism of the Symbolist mentalité be identified with an elite and ultimately transitory bourgeois culture, a combination of high education and low taxation?

Such questions can all be brought to bear on a fundamental and insufficiently explored issue which the network will address: the interface between Symbolism and modernity.

The Redefining European Symbolism research project was only made possible through the through the Leverhulme Trust’s International Networks scheme. Professor Richard Thomson has been awarded an International Network Grant by The Leverhulme Trust in March 2010; providing £123,755 over 36 months.

For more information on the Leverhulme Trust and the work the Trust is involved with please visit the Leverhulm Trust website.