Symbolist poets of the fin de siècle, such as Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine, were interested in exploring the inner world of dreams, the mind, and emotions.
They shared this fascination for the worlds that lie behind visible reality with the Symbolist printmakers, and frequently collaborated to produce luxurious books.
They presented their shared vision in these works to a select public of like-minded book-lovers and print collectors.
The prints made by Nabi and Symbolist artists to accompany works of poetry eschewed literal illustrations of their content.
They believed that the more abstract elements of poetry, such as the cadence and harmony of the verses, corresponded directly with other sensory experiences, such as the essence of a perfume, the notes of a piece of music, or the lines and colours of a painting or print.
The vision of a lost love that Mallarmé evoked in his poem Apparition was expressed in a colour lithograph by Maurice Denis and set to music by André Rossignol.
Prints and poems in harmony
George Auriol incorporated the opening lines of Charles Cros’s poem Nocturne in his colour lithograph Bois frissonants for the prestigious print album L’Estampe originale.
The decorative way in which he formed the words and placed them around the ethereal female figure lends an extra visual dimension to the poetry, intensifying the melancholy mood of the image.
Jean-Paul Bouillon, Maurice Denis, Geneva 1993
Henri Dorra (ed.), Symbolist Art Theories. A Critical Anthology, Berkeley 1994
Carlyle Ferren MacIntyre, French Symbolist Poetry, Berkeley 2007