My major arcana of Decadence would be anything Philippe Jullian in Dreamers of Decadence (Esthètes et Magiciens in French, 1969) describes as “macabre”, “chimerical”, “sumptuous”, “lavish” or “mystical”.
– Richard Hawkins, 2005
French writer and illustrator Philippe Jullian, born on this day in 1919, did more than just about any other 20th century figure to direct interest and connoisseurship toward the culture of the thirty odd years which had 1900 as their mid-point. In bringing the interlocking movements of Decadence and Symbolism to new generations he created an audience for what had been discredited and unfashionable or had never had a sufficient public to be even that. In biographies of Wilde, Montesquiou, Lorrain, Bernhardt, Edward VII, d’Annunzio, but especially in Dreamers of Decadence, he brought the full weight of his boundless curiosity and refined taste to those few decades.
“For a long time the chimeras have slept,” he wrote in Dreamers of Decadence, “stifled by the images they have inspired, and for a long time the sphinxes have asked no questions. Dust covered the books of poetry on the shelves, and hid the pictures beneath a grey mist.” It wasn’t just the writers and artists Jullian revived but also their antecedents, their patrons, their social circles, their shared thematic obsessions – entire worlds. There is such a surfeit of names and references that it sometimes seems as if Jullian is spraying them into the air before him so he can stride into their perfume. But he also maintained personal contacts which established a link back to that time, through the Marchesa Casati, for example, or Natalie Barney – then still living – whom he thanks in the preface to Dreamers of Decadence.
With Gustave Moreau as his guiding light he restores vanished sensibilities, meticulously seeking out the rare and recherché slumbering in the tomb, the temple, the hothouse: “We shall light up portraits of those who were the faithful servants of the monsters, lingering more with mad or unsuccessful artists than with recognized masters such as Redon or recently discovered figures such as Klimt.”
The chapter in Dreamers of Decadence entitled “A Short Anthology of Symbolist Themes” provides a list of Jullian’s themes which, as Hawkins demonstrates, serve as a litany for Decadent souls well into the 21st century:
ANGELS • ANIMALITY • AZURE • BARBARIANS • BRUGES • BYZANTIUM • CHIMERAS • CHRIST • DEAD GODS • DEAD WOMEN • DEATH • EYES • FAIRIES • FLORENCE • FURNISHINGS • GANYMEDE • GEMS • HAIR • HAMLET • HELEN • HERMAPHRODITE • INDIA • IRIS • KNIGHT • LILIES • LOIE FULLER • LUDWIG II • MADONNAS • MASKS • MEDUSA • MONA LISA • OPHELIA • ORIENT • PARKS • PARSIFAL • PEACOCKS • PIERROT • PUVIS DE CHAVANNES • QUEENS • ROSES • SAINTLY WOMEN • SALOME • SAPPHO • SARAH BERNHARDT • SATAN • SERPENTS • SILENCE • SIRENS • SODOM • SOULS • SPHINX • SWANS • THULE • VAMPIRES • VENICE • VENUS • WAGNER • WALTER PATER • WATER-LILIES • WITCHES