Art State of Mind

All by Myself, a Lonely Story of Solitude in Painting

Magda Michalska 25 March 2020 min Read

Aaaaaaalllll by myseeeeeeeeelf, don’t wanna be, aaaaallll by myself- anymore…  Shout out to all those lonely souls who at nights hold on tight to hot water bottles, or teddy bears (or pillows if in a fit of folly you’ve given away your favourite soft companion). Let’s dwell together on our loneliness, time to explore one of the oldest themes in art and life: the solitude, in painting.

Solitude in Painting

When your friend group breaks apart

Paul Serusier, Solitude, Huelgoat Landscape, c.1892, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes, Rennes, solitude in painting
Paul Sérusier, Solitude, Huelgoat Landscape, c.1892, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes, Rennes.

Sérusier once said that art is a means of communication between souls. Together with his friends Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Henri Ibels and Paul Ranson, he formed a group Les Nabis (the Prophets) who in their art touched the issues of symbolism, occult sciences and esotericism. After Gauguin’s departure to Tahiti in 1891, the group fell apart and each member developed separately – Sérusier returned to Brittany from Paris where in the small village of Huelgoat he worked for two years.

When you go for those lonely walks

Gustave Courbet, Solitude,1866, Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France, solitude in painting
Gustave Courbet, Solitude, 1866, Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France

Courbet, provocative at the Salons and in many of his paintings, was at the same time a man who enjoyed lonely walks in the forests of his childhood village Ornans. His favourite place by the Brème stream, called the Puits-Noir, let the artist withdraw into himself. In 1866, Courbet sent a letter to his patron Alfred Bruvas where he described this place as superb landscape of deep solitude produced within the valleys of my native land.

When you choose to be alone

Paul Delvaux, Loneliness, 1956, Musee des Beaux Arts de Mons (Bergen), solitude in painting
Paul Delvaux, Loneliness, 1956, Musee des Beaux-Arts de Mons, Mons, Belgium

A solitary figure, Paul Delvaux was a Belgian painter, who despite professional and personal relationships with many Surrealist painters, did not consider himself a Surrealist. Magritte mocked him for ‘bourgeois’ origins (his father was a lawyer) and alleged that Delvaux was famous only because he often painted nudes, having been inspired by a wax figure of Venus presented once at a freak show in Brussels.

When your complexes drive you into solitude

 Salvador Dalí, La solitude (Solitude), 1931, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, solitude in painting
Salvador Dalí, Solitude, 1931, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT

Who could tell that young Salvador was described by his fellow students at the Madrid art academy as morbidly shy and literally sick with timidity. Confused by his bisexuality, he felt great sexual inadequacy (…I discovered that my penis was small, pitiful and soft). To fight his insecurities which drove him into isolation, his uncle told him to pretend he was an extrovert. It worked.

When your relatives die

Koloman Moser, Loneliness, 1902, illutration for Ver Sacrum
Koloman Moser, Loneliness, 1902, illustration for Ver Sacrum

Moser was 20 when his father died in 1888. In order to make a living, he began illustrating books and magazines. Then, he became one of the founding members of the Vienna Secession in 1897 and the leading illustrator for their magazine Ver Sacrum. Then, he was the artistic director for the Wiener Werkstätte but he left the company in 1907 in order to devote himself exclusively to painting.

When you can’t live with anyone else but yourself

Edvard Munch, The Lonely Ones, 1935, Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway,
Edvard Munch, The Lonely Ones, 1935, Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway

Munch never married. For the last 27 years of his life, he lived alone on his estate outside Oslo, supporting his relatives financially but communicating with them solely by mail. Isolated from people, he surrounded himself with his paintings, he called them his children and hated to be separated from them.

When cities make you feel alone

Mario Sironi, Solitude, 1925, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome, solitude in painting
Mario Sironi, Solitude, 1925, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome

Initially Sironi adhered to the Futurist movement, then he was briefly inspired by the metaphysical painting of De Chirico, an example of which we have here, to later support the Fascist regime with his works. However, melancholy and solitude were always present in his art, expressed in solid forms and intensely dark atmospheres with which Sironi described the experience of modern city life.

When solitude is your inspiration

Odilon Redon, I plunged into solitude. I dwelt in the tree behind me (plate 9) from La Tentation de Saint-Antoine 1896, published 1938
Odilon Redon, I plunged into solitude. I dwelt in the tree behind me (plate 9) from La Tentation de Saint-Antoine by Gustave Flaubert, 1896, published 1938, MoMA

When Flaubert was 24, he became inspired by a painting of St Anthony. Since then, he had been working on a literary adaptation of the famous story of temptation for the next 30 years. He finally published it in the form of a play script, which presents one night in the life of Anthony who he is being faced with various temptations.

When you just need to be alone from time to time to catch up with yourself

Camille Corot, The Solitude. Recollection of Vigen, Limousin, 1866, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain, solitude in painting
Camille Corot, The Solitude. Recollection of Vigen, Limousin, 1866, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain

And it’s totally fine. <3

If you enjoyed reading about the solitude in paintings, you might also like:

6 Shades Of Romantic Creepiness Of Caspar David Friedrich’s Paintings

10 Art Masterpieces to Calm Your Anxiety

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