A talk to the Richard Wagner Society of SA by Trevor Clarke, 17 July 2016
This was a marvel of learning, a sumptuous panorama of somewhat saccharine mythical paintings, presented superbly by our fraternal guest, Trevor Clarke, member of the Richard Wagner Society of Victoria (or Danielgrad, as it is apparently now known – we wish that great State had kept its original moniker, Batmania).
Trevor’s two hour talk was a fascinating and wide-ranging review, dazzling, and in some ways, dizzying, in its vast construct of connections and influence. Wagner obviously drew on the visual arts in a myriad ways – to enliven his researches into the ancient sagas, to inspire the settings of his operatic tableaux, and to inform the tone and overall effect of his ‘Total Art.’
Wagner was a classicist but also a romanticist and, moreover, a modernist. Trevor, who seems to have not only visited every art gallery on the globe but every one of its vaults as well, had as an apt exhibit, an image of impressionists gathered to talk a little Wagner. He started pre-Wagner, with medieval works based on ancient stories such as Tristan and Isolde, Percival and the Grail, the Volsung sagas and so on. He developed his theme by tracking through ‘romance’ art from pre-Renaissance to the post-moderns, such as Anselm Kiefer. Trevor is agile – he can be talking about Bosch one moment, and Schwind’s work in Ludwig‘s grotto the next, seamlessly.
So we considered: Hans Makart (and his mentee, Klimt), whose golden roof featuring scenes from the Ring (below) should surely have been commissioned for Bayreuth if Ludwig II had been around, Georges Rochegrosse with his chevalier fleurs (main image) based on Parsifal; illustrators such as Beardsley et al, Collier, Böcklin, Dollman (with his Valkyrs), Gaston Bussière’s forest scene of Brunhilde gazing at the incestuous lovers (below), Franz von Lenbach, Wyeth, Kolb, Titian, Fueli, Cornelius, Fantin-Latour, Morris (see his Iseult below), Burne-Jones, Austin-Abbey, Rackham, and the philosophical painters, stemming from Raphael’s School of Athens, the first celebrity grouping. And many more…