Carlos Schwabe’s oil painting “Spleen and Ideal,” created in 1907, depicts two figures engaged in sexual activity amidst a breaking wave. The figure on top is an angelic figure with white wings, which appears to be male, while the figure below has the breasts of a woman, though her face is obscured by her hair. The painting also features the coils of a serpent, which add a dark and ominous aspect to the composition.
This explicit depiction of sexual activity is in stark contrast to Schwabe’s earlier illustrations, which were likely used as the frontispiece to the section of the same title in which most of the poems are found. These illustrations were part of Schwabe’s “Spleen et Ideal” series, which explored the contrasting moods of “spleen” and “ideal” through highly symbolic imagery.
Schwabe was part of the Symbolist movement, which was characterized by its use of metaphor and symbolism to express emotional and spiritual states. His highly stylized and symbolic imagery helped to define this movement and was influential in the development of Art Nouveau.
In the context of Schwabe’s overall body of work, the explicit nature of “Spleen and Ideal” is somewhat surprising. However, it can be seen as a further exploration of the themes of transgression and taboo that were present in much of his work. The serpent, a symbol of temptation and sin, adds an additional layer of meaning to the painting, suggesting that the pleasure depicted in the scene is not without consequence.
Overall, Carlos Schwabe’s “Spleen and Ideal” painting stands out as a striking and provocative work within his larger body of highly symbolic and stylized art.
Read more about Spleen et Idéal here.
See more artworks by Emile Carlos Schwabe here.