I asked one of the gallery assistants what she found the most impressive of the works seeing them day after day. Her (perhaps unexpected) choice was the Félix Valloton landscape of astounding delicacy from 1915 (below). I could understand.
A chapter in the beautifully produced catalogue by the exhibition's scientific director Christoph Flubacher seeks to revive aesthetic appreciation for the intricate enamel work of Armand Point, a French artist-craftsman represented by the breathtaking Lady with swans from a private collection.
The theosophist poet Jean Delville (1867-1953) — Symbolists gravitated to alt-mysticism such as Rosicrucianism and the like — shows himself an evocative painter (with works from private collections).
Ethereal female figures that represent the clichés of Symbolism drift through the works of Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, Filippo Franzoni and Alphonse Osbert. William Degouve de Nuncques could have made a career in 21st-century Disney. Albert Trachsel should get a percentage on every psychedelic poster.
But pride of place has to go to Carlos Schwabe, designer of the 1892 Salon Rose+Croix (also from a private collection) that put Symbolist art on the map.
One of the Pierre Arnaud Foundation's strengths is that it does not focus on individuals. Its selection from Schwabe, however, shows that the artist could work in several styles, including a series of almost three-dimensional dramatic pencil studies.
And if you imagined the Symbolists were all sugar, drama and smoke, take a look at Fantastic Animal by Jean-Joseph-Marie Carriès (1892) loaned from the Petit Palais in Paris.
A humanlike frog sculpture with a tail, as large as a basin, is swallowing with difficulty what looks like another, much smaller frog.
Food for thought
This might not be the best place to tell you, but on Thursday, 9 March, from 17:30 at the Indigo restaurant associated with the gallery, a programme of music and an aperitif will be followed by a meal “around the various products of the sea related to the current exhibition”. Reservations: 027 483 46 11.
After a series of stories about the Foundation’s financial troubles – CHF800,000 in the red, loss of a major supporter, four workers made redundant, cancellation of an exhibition – it is encouraging to see that the direction is still putting together courageous and innovative shows that are worth anybody’s time. It is a pity that the gallery has only been able to attract half the 70,000 hoped-for visitors a year, a third of the 250,000 who crowd the much bigger Gianadda in Martigny, with each staging two shows over 12 months.
Deals to defray costs
Escalating exhibition-assembly costs have also played their part in the Arnaud’s woes. Deals with other institutions are now helping to defray expenses. The currently expected deficit is around CHF300,000, which the directors consider manageable.
Véronique Carpiaux from the Félicien Rops Museum in Namur, Belgium, was a member of the Symbolism scientific committee. The Swiss works in this exhibition are due to go on show at the Belgian museum on 2 June-24 September 2017.
The Foundation’s next exhibition is Two Faces of the East, the portrayal of women in Orientalist painting and popular imagery from Islamic lands. It runs from 2 June to 24 September 2017.
Standard entry fee: CHF18. Open: 10:00-18:00. Closed: Monday and Tuesday.