Decadence (from French decadence or from Latin decadentia – decadence) is a direction in literature and art of the late XIX – early XX centuries, characterized by resistance to public “philistine” morality, a cult of beauty as a self-sufficient value, which often goes along with the aesthetization of sin and vice, dual experiences of aversion to life and skillful enjoyment of it. Decadence is one of the central concepts in the criticism of F. Nietzsche’s culture, which linked decadence to the increasing role of the intellect and the weakening of the original life instincts, “the will to power”. The decadence period is saturated with hopelessness, disappointment, a decline in vitality and aesthetics.
The concept of decadence first appeared in France in the 18th century, and was associated with the names of the writers Charles Louis de Montesquieu and Desiree Nisard, it was a sign of new artistic trends that rejected positivist doctrines in art, an illusory academism. The creators thereby wanted to overcome the crisis period by creating new aesthetic and ethical values, which proceeded from the foundations of a completely new “philosophy of life”, which resurrected both irrational principles and the criteria for the unity of the world, in this aspect decadence resonates with symbolism.
Nevertheless, one should carefully extract the philosophical sources of decadence from the “philosophy of life”. So, for example, F. Nietzsche, who rejected ossified morality and degraded Christian society, turned to a strong and healthy person, his teaching served as a kind of protest to the decline of culture and humanity. In the XIX century, the concept of “decadence” was used against the writer Victor Hugo and other representatives of romanticism in France. The bourgeois public was not enthusiastic about the paintings of the painters Gericault and Delacroix or the revolutionary moments in Hugo’s literature. The creators, in turn, used decadence as a sign of honor, decency, they emphasized their isolation from the banal bourgeois progress. According to the researchers, decadence in literature served as a transitional stage between the romanticism of the 19th century and the modernism of the 20th century. Decadence in painting – a phenomenon in itself is quite controversial, it never managed to take shape in any particular direction. The art of decadence had nothing to do with the art of energy and youth. Nevertheless, decline, amoralism, aesthetics, as well as longing for bygone days contributed to the creation of outstanding works. It was the dissatisfaction with the “banal progress”, the cult of the savage capitalism and led to the opening of new horizons in creativity. Here we can note the individualism of the artist Aubrey Beardsley, his ability to masterly stylization, which made his graphic works a masterpiece, and their artificial nature only emphasizes the isolation of plots from nature. Representatives of decadence were such painters: Arnold Beklin, Max Klinger, partly Mikhail Vrubel and Borisov-Musatov, as well as Aubrey Beardsley, Gustav Moreau, Franz von Stuck, Edward Munch, N.K. Kalmakov. The criticism regarding the paintings of the decadents is mixed. When you visit the gallery, it seems that you find yourself in a madhouse, because their art was a reflection of the misunderstanding of the public, which as a result had an impact on their mental state.
Decadent artists were not afraid to experiment with reason, and often they teetered on the edge. They shocked the public with the novelty and their ideas about the world, which were alien to the majority of the population. The era of decadence was marked by such works: “Salome” by Aubrey Beardsley, “Demon Sitting” by Vrubel, “Christ at Olympia”, “Sentence of Paris” by Max Klinger, “Crown of Thorns”, “Puss in Boots” by Kalmakov and others.