The Decadent Movement: The Great Grandparent of Goth

18 Jan

Following what occured after the PreRaphaelites leads us to Aestheticism, which i have already covered. So let us delve into a subsection of the aesthetic movement, the Decadents.

Like Aestheticism’s battle cry: ‘Art for art’s sake!’ the Decadents, as an offshoot  of Aestheticsm took this break from the tradition of using art to convey moral messages and classical themes and instead went even further. As a movement of both writers and artists they rejoiced in a self indulgent approach that ignored even nature in it’s self obsessiveness and cultivated an attitude of anti virtue, anti civilization and sometimes love of the macabre.

Edgar Allen Poe for instance was a darling of the Decadents.

An example of a literary theme the Decadents invented which has evolved and is still explored today is the notion of the person who disdains the world around them and retreats into a self created inner world. This was the subject of the book Against Nature, by Joris-Karl Huysmans. Published in 1884 it was an unbridled sensation, attacked savagely by critics but adored and championed by a younger generation of writers and artists.

Charles Baudelaire, the poet and assayist was another inspiratrion and darling of the Decadent movement.”What do I care if you are good?Be beautiful! and be sad!”  Emo, folks. Pure emo.  “All that is beautiful and noble is the result of reason and calculation. Crime, the taste for which the human animal draws from the womb of his mother, is natural in its origins. Virtue, on the contrary, is artificial and supernatural, since gods and prophets were necessary in every epoch and every nation to teach virtue . . . the good is always the product of some art.” That’s goth.

The Yellow Book, the first issue

The literary center of the movement was the infamous Yellow Book. The Yellow Book was a quarterly literary journal published from 1894 to 1897.

Henry James, H.G. Wells and Yeats were among its many contributors. It was yellow because in France, books with lewd content were covered with yellow to “alert the reader to their lascivious content”. The yellow book deliberately played off this trope, and indeed it caused an immense ruckus.

The London Times decried it as “repulsive and insolent” and the Westminster Gazette clamored for an “act of Parliament to make this kind of thing illegal.” In The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde (a noted decadent himself but who was never published in the Yellow Book), Dorian Grey is sent a copy of a Yellow Book to amuse him after the suicide of his first love.

My Gd this is SO goth.

The Yellow Book, aside from defining a movement and an amazingly high literary standard is also notable in that it had no qualms about publishing women writers.

While Lord Byron and the Romatics had perfected the art of drunken partying, the decadents brought us into the modern age by embracing drugs. Hashish, opium and absinthe (back when it still had wormwood and you could trip off of it) were consumed en masse.

Gustave Moreau, Thracian Girl Carrying the Head of Orpheus on His Lyre

The Decadents loved Orpheus but they positively obsessed over Salome.

Don’t believe me?

Gustav Moreau, Salome

Charles Ricketts, Salome

Regnault, Salome

And of course Oscar Wilde’s Salome, teh play for which Aubrey Beardsley did a series of famous prints:

Beardsley, Salome

Beardsley, The Toilet of Salome I, from Salome

Aubrey Beardsley, Salomé The Climax

Other decadent paintings (although it is very difficult to seperate “decadent”painting from “aesthetic”painting as there was less of a line in the sand as there was for the literary movement:

Sir Edward Burne-Jones, The Baleful Head

Simeon Solomon, The Sleepers and the One who Watcheth


Edvard Munch, Vampire


Odilon Redon, Roger and Angelica


Benjamin Constant, Favorite of the Emir

Bastien Lepage, Joan of Arc



Posted by on January 18, 2012 in Uncategorized


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2 responses to “The Decadent Movement: The Great Grandparent of Goth

  1. Thog

    April 17, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Im curious, who is the painter of the first image of this page, the one with three paintings. Especially the middle one?

  2. cthulhuhungers

    March 26, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    GREAT article


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