Painting and Music

4 The Ubiquity of the Musical in Painting

Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Signac, Paul Cézanne, and others saw the intrinsic value of color and its expressiveness in terms of the contiguity of painting and music.[9] Color is in itself mysterious in the sensations it awakens in us. Thus, we must use it in a mysterious way when we employ it not for drawing but to harness the musical effects that emanate from it, from its own nature, from its interior, mysterious, enigmatic power.[10] Whistler chose titles such as Nocturne: Blue and Gold in order to emphasize that the coloring was independent of the object depicted. As the nineteenth century advanced, there were increasing reports of painters being inspired by musical works and using music to attune themselves to their work on paintings (e.g., Arnold Böcklin and Anselm Feuerbach). This practice — still used today — does not necessarily yield evidence within the painting of its musical impetus, but it remains important for understanding the genesis of the work and the role of music in it. More concrete associations can be found in the peinture wagnérienne that developed in France around Henri Fantin-Latour; it focused on motifs from Wagner operas but also sought to use color to create visual equivalents for the qualities of Wagner’s music.[11] These approaches went hand in hand with a fascination for the notion of fusion of sensory impressions, which was elaborated to such an extent in symbolist literature, for example (Charles Baudelaire, Maurice Maeterlinck, Arthur Rimbaud, Stéphane Mallarmé), that sensory perception no longer appeared to be linked to a sensory organ: the eyes appear to hear, the ears to see. This idea soon fascinated artists, too, who now wanted to create their paintings without being bound to a subject, using only colors and forms.