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Joan Brull - The Dream

by Alexandra Tuschka

This work by the probably best-known Spanish symbolist Joan Brull is not only called "The Dream", but also automatically invites us to dream. Not a few viewers find the work "poetic", "romantic" or "meditative".

The whole picture is set in a natural landscape. The moon shimmers through the green of the weeping willow, a quiet lake fills half the picture. A few flowers grow on the shore. The diffuse brushstroke gives the work a nebulous quality.

A girl has now sat down on a rock on the shore. She can only be seen in profile, her hair is tied in a bun and she is wearing a long, expansive, light blue dress. Through the upswept hair she reveals a view of her shoulders and neck. She seems to have just had the titular dream, in which the painter also lets the viewer participate: in the distance, by or even on the water, four women have joined hands and are dancing a ring dance. Obviously they are having great fun. One of them has thrown her head back in joy, her moving clothes testify to her dynamic movements. Our girl also seems to want to participate. His right hand is raised with interest, thus opening his body towards the other. Since the girl is awake, this dream has more the flavour of a "vision" or "imagination" than a night dream.

Dreaming" is a figurative motif of the spiritual world. Here, dream and reality blur on the picture's background and are no longer distinguishable for us as viewers, were it not for the picture's title, which tells us that the girl is dreaming and that the women are not real at all. Although the scene seems mythological, it remains mysterious and ambiguous. Brull thus fits in well with the Riga of the Symbolists, who advocated a return to mysticism and spirituality as a counter-reaction to strict realism. This process can be seen in Brull's works: while the early works are still subject to strict academic rules, later he increasingly departs from them.

The women in the background can be identified as forest or lake nymphs with regard to Brull's further work and also to the known iconography. These female figures exist in almost all mythological traditions, in the Celtic realm, in the Norse or even in ancient Greece, and have been common on pictorial media for centuries. Basically, they embody the soul of nature as nature spirits, but are also beautiful to look at. The nymphs are often, but not always, anonymous and nameless, numerous and beautiful. Dressing is not one of their hobbies; they constantly appear in the picture naked or only scantily covered with flowers or fluttering dresses.

The choice of these figures as a pictorial theme is also typically symbolistic, as they express the supernatural and embody the idea that nature is animate. The blue flowers seen here may be lilies, which stand for purity and innocence, but otherwise the painter refrains from offering any further help in interpretation. Thus the subject of the painting remains abstract and nebulous and, with this refusal of clear identification, also expresses the quality of a dream that is equally difficult for the waking person to grasp and is often only remembered in outline.

Joan Brull - The Dream

Oil on canvas, 1905, 200 x 141 cm, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

Antonio Zucchini - Three Nymphs at the Dance

Oil on canvas, 1772, 106 cm diameter, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


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