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Tyra Kleen and the Synthetic Inter-Mediality

Conference contribution
Authors Birte Bruchmüller
Published in Association for Art History's Annual Conference, Brighton, 4 - 6 April 2019, session: "The Non-Medium Specificity of 'Graphicality'"
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Cultural Sciences
Language en
Keywords Tyra Kleen, graphic art, illustration, image/text relation, symbolism, the turn of the 20th century, Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal, Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven
Subject categories Arts, Languages and Literature


‘As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight’. These words of James McNeill Whistler demonstrate a holistic and synergistic understanding of art forms, similar to the notion of the total work of art, which was highly prevalent in modernist European art scenes at the turn of the 20th century. Artistic phenomena, such as the French 19th-century illustrated novel, the revival of the bookcraft, and the pictorial rendering of literary sources, are some examples to be mentioned here that either combine different art media or connect media-specific elements to other conventionally distinct mediums. Edgar Allan Poe’s term ‘graphicality’ emanates from such an art medium transgression, fusion and combination. As a precursor of the modernist-symbolist movement, he had a great impact on the development of Charles Baudelaire’s aesthetic programme and his writing was, beside Baudelaire’s, a crucial literary point of origin for some cosmopolitan Nordic authors and visual artists, including the Swedish symbolist painter, graphic artist and novelist Tyra Kleen (1874-1951). Trained in Germany and Paris during the 1890s, and based in Rome between 1898 and 1908, Kleen developed a great interest for a symbolist, occult, and mystical understanding of art, while she, at the same time, remained independent from any constitutional symbolist movement or group. Both (decadent and symbolist) literary subjects matter and mythologic imageries dominated her art production at the turn of the 20th century. This paper focuses on media combinations - produced by Tyra Kleen at the turn of the 20th century - that all in their own way seem to destabilize the traditional function of an illustration, supposed to support or elucidate a literary text as a mere appendage. Tyra Kleen’s lithographs “Sed Non Satiati”, 1902, “Nevermore”, undated, as well as her lithograph “La Peur”, 1901, appear to be no pure pictorial supplementation of the literary source or sources referred to, instead, they seem to operate according to different dynamics. By exploring the three selected graphic artworks by Tyra Kleen, I aim to examine the hierarchy between visual and textual features as well as to examine the extent to which each of them can be understood as a synthetic inter-medial art object, namely as an art product which conforms to a fusion of several distinct media into a single ‘new medium’. Moreover, this paper is generally concerned with outlining ‘symbolist illustrations’ and their potential of destabilizing traditional text-image-relations by comprising a coexistence of verbal and visual elements in a highly innovative and liberated way.

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