The spiritual impulse in art from van Gogh to Monet

How do you find a spark of light when everything around you is darkness? We investigate how great artists found inspiration - and consolation - during turbulent times.

(Originally aired November 2016)

Rampant materialism?  Check.

Urbanization bringing more chaos into the world? Yep.

People becoming disillusioned with traditional religion? You bet.

They could be today's headlines, but we're talking about the years between 1880 and 1930.

It was a time of massive change and people felt unsettled. So, the great artists of the day did what creative minds do when they feel a kind of malaise: they looked for a way see beyond it.

The results are on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in a new exhibit about the transcendent in art: Mystical Landscapes.

The AGO's Katharine Lochnan on Edvard Munch

6 years ago
Duration 1:34
The AGO's Katharine Lochnan on Edvard Munch
Katharine Lochnan speaks at the Mystical Landscapes press preview at the Art Gallery of Ontario (Courtesy of AGO)
Katharine Lochnan is the curator of the exhibit. She worked with a team of historians, religious scholars, scientists and a Jungian psychoanalyst to create this thesis.

Included in the exhibition are works by Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet, Canadian artists Emily Carr and Lawren S. Harris, as well as relative unknowns Charles-Marie Dulac and Eugène Jannson.

The Mystical Aspects of van Gogh's Art

6 years ago
Duration 1:26
The AGO's Katharine Lochnan on van Gogh

The Mystical Aspects of Monet's Art

6 years ago
Duration 1:04
The Mystical Aspects of Monet's Art

Until now, many of these paintings had only ever been seen through a secular lens. Lochnan says we were missing an important part of the picture.

"It's a wonderful way of bringing theology together with art history. And looking at art in a way that gives these artists back their spiritual voices. Because art history has secularized this period to the extent that, while little tiny bits of information are available about some of these artists, nobody has wanted to look at the spiritual in modern art except in abstraction. So it's made me feel as if I've been able to contribute a little bit to a resolution of that secularization of art history itself." - Katharine Lochnan


Win a copy of the Mystical Landscapes companion book

We're giving away a hardcover book about the Mystical Landscapes exhibit. It's full of essays about the connection between the mystical and the artist, complete with glossy photos of all the works of art we discuss and many more.

If you'd like to be entered in the random draw, email us and put the word "Mystical" in the subject line. tapestry@cbc.ca

Read the CBC's contest rules here.

Click LISTEN to hear Katharine Lochnan's full conversation with Mary Hynes. Plus, follow along with the slideshow at the top of this page to see some of the artwork discussed in the interview. 



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