Jean Delville, La Fin d’un Règne (The End of a Reign), 1893.
'Decadence' is one of the most profoundly overused and confused terms, its meaning and application contested by everyone from scholars to moralists to ad copy writers, and slapped on everything from cheesecake to late Rome. 
Decadence is, however, certainly associated with a brand of latter-19th Century art and literature, sitting uncomfortably between Romanticism and Modernism, but its boundaries are markedly ill-defined. Its works often overlap with the also-ambiguous Symbolist movement, and don’t necessarily share specific stylistic or formal qualities. Decadence has seemingly been defined the way the Supreme Court defined pornography: you know it when you see it.
However, a thread of certain motifs, themes, references and aesthetic preoccupations links the seemingly disparate array of ‘Decadent’ and ‘Symbolist’ works, and it is this thread that I here endeavor to trace, exploring the manifold manifestations of the notion of Decadence, following in des Esseintes’s footsteps and curating a canon of oft-forgotten fin de siècle treasures.

Jean Delville, La Fin d’un Règne (The End of a Reign), 1893.

'Decadence' is one of the most profoundly overused and confused terms, its meaning and application contested by everyone from scholars to moralists to ad copy writers, and slapped on everything from cheesecake to late Rome. 

Decadence is, however, certainly associated with a brand of latter-19th Century art and literature, sitting uncomfortably between Romanticism and Modernism, but its boundaries are markedly ill-defined. Its works often overlap with the also-ambiguous Symbolist movement, and don’t necessarily share specific stylistic or formal qualities. Decadence has seemingly been defined the way the Supreme Court defined pornography: you know it when you see it.

However, a thread of certain motifs, themes, references and aesthetic preoccupations links the seemingly disparate array of ‘Decadent’ and ‘Symbolist’ works, and it is this thread that I here endeavor to trace, exploring the manifold manifestations of the notion of Decadence, following in des Esseintes’s footsteps and curating a canon of oft-forgotten fin de siècle treasures.

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    Jean Delville, La Fin d’un Règne (The End of a Reign), 1893. 'Decadence' is one of the most profoundly overused and...
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