Richard Wagner & Visual Art

July 19, 2016 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | ART, Ulalume, WAGNER | 3 Comments |

"Knight of the Flowers" (aka Parsifal) by Georges Rochegrosse

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.

Yseult by Gaston Bussiere

Yseult by Gaston Bussière

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…


Rackham’s Wotan walks away from his daughter’s immolation


Makart’s ideal roof


Collier’s Venusberg


Dollman’s Valkyrs

RWFantin LaTour

Fantin LaTour renders Richard’s Muse


Feuerbach’s Plato symposium

RWBeardsley RWDollman1 RWMorrisLaBelleIseult



  1. Reply

    Trevor Clarke

    July 30, 2016

    Dear Peter,

    Thanks for your generous review.

    The painting of Brünnhilde confronting Siegmund is not by John Charles Dollman, but by Gaston Brussièrre. In the wagnerian mileu of 1894, it won him a silver medal at the Paris Salon.

    Brussièrre contributed to Péladan’s wagnerian Rose + Croix Salon, along with many so-called symbolists, and Eric Satie contributed ambient music.

    You may recall that I traced the wacky pilgimage of Jean Delville from Rose + Croix wagnerian to Krishnamurti acolyte. A study of the influence of Parsifal through the Rose + Croix movement might still fascinate and amuse modern wagnerians. At least Nietzsche, somewhere in hell, might enjoy it with delirious malicious.


    • Reply

      Lesley Jakobsen

      July 31, 2016

      Thank you Trevor for your kind words and correction of our piece. Unlike 'Time Magazine' in the old days, which would publish a correction with the pithy statement "'Time' regrets the error", we can, and have, amended online accordingly. We also couldn't resist adding an image of Gaston's Isolde. Again, thanks for a wonderful talk on an interesting cross-over topic, that has drawn much attention to our article from all points of the compass. The Varnished Culture is looking forward to descending on Melbourne later in the year for Opera Australia's 'Ring Cycle'...

  2. Reply

    Trevor Clarke

    July 30, 2016


    Well, I misspelt the painter’s name. It should be “Gaston Bussière” without the “r”. Also, my last sentence should end with the word “malice” not “malicious”.

    Congratulations, by the way, on your fascinating site/blog.


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