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Paul Ranson The Clearing (Edge of the Wood)
Paul Ranson's 1895 painting The Clearing (Edge of the Wood) is a brooding and mystical rumination on the transcendental powers of nature. A leading member of the Post-Impressionist avant-garde movement Les Nabis, formed by a group of friends who shared a passion for painting and literature and hoped to fuse the two, Ranson's ambiguous and opaque world is very much one only for the initiated. In spite of the enigmatic subject matter of much of the Les Nabis' paintings, their adherence and trailblazing approach to the decorative style in late-nineteenth century art (an approach that would come to define the Art Nouveau style) allow their works to be approachable and visually pleasing upon first encounter. Taken from the Hebrew word for prophet, the term Nabi is used in the plural to denote a group of visionary thinkers. The movement lasted only a few years since the Nabis dispersed to form the nascent movement of Art Nouveau. As the founder of the group Ranson's esoteric symbols that litter his paintings mingle with a figurative reality, as fantasies and spells brings visitors into the world of this strange and tormented painter.
Sometimes filled with eroticism, his compositions exhibit a symbolist and diabolical character. Ranson's taste for esotericism is expressed through his passion for structuring his paintings with the signs and codes and singular characteristics of femininity, imbued with the aesthetics of the prevailing trend for Japanese-style painting, Arabesques, and European religious mystic thought. The years surrounding the creation of The Clearing (Edge of the Wood) were difficult for Ranson following the death of his father and the movement of his surviving family to his environs. The presence of his grieving family allowed the artist little time to work, and soon after Ranson fled Paris and sought refuge with his friend in the countryside.
From this point on forest scenes and wild, domestic surroundings appeared frequently in Ranson's oeuvre, triggered by his love of symbolist literature which is often filled with allusions to the mystical realm of the forest. The forests also become for Ranson an anthropomorphic presence , reviving a favourite motif in Romantic painting earlier in the century. In The Clearing (Edge of the Wood) Ranson captures a homely sphere of radical thought and independence in the oaks where the Celts made their home, and the clearings where dissenters hid during the religious upheavals over the centuries.
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