European symbolism in the visual arts, literature and music reached its zenith in the final two decades of the 19th century. Symbolism is a reaction against scientific materialism and naturalism. Its emphasis is on mood/feeling and evocation over definition and observed facts. In the visual arts, the symbolist painters escaped the optical, spatial, and textural strictures of impressionism thru the emphasis on spiritual insights thru intuition, fantasy, imagination and dreams.
The symbolists believed that by means of forms, colors and moods, they could communicate personal messages of a spiritual, moral and religious nature. Symbolist painters aimed for imaginative suggestions of their dreams through symbolic allusions and luxuriant decorative forms. Edvard Munch was one of the symbolist painters in the 19th century. One of his works was “By the Deathbed Fever” in 1895. Its original size was approximately 35 x 49 inches. This painting depicted a mood of deep melancholy as, probably, relatives hovered on the deathbed of a person.
Dominant colors used on clothes of those near the deathbed were black and off-white on faces of relatives who hovered on, depicting extreme grief over a dying person. A woman’s face was pale and in extreme sadness as she joined those who hovered in the person’s deathbed. Her act of not looking at the deathbed alluded either a feeling of denial/disbelief or resignation to the fact that moments later the person on the deathbed would be lost forever. The deathbed, however, was dominated by off-white color to depict an air of peace and serenity on the dying person.
This dying person was probably at peace with himself, has accepted his eventual death, and ready to join the Creator.
Clement, R. , Houze, A. and Erbolato-Ramsey, C. A Sourcebook of Gauguin’s Symbolist Followers. 13 Jan. 2008, www.gonorway.no/norway/sidevisning.php?id=35.