Oneiric images in artworks of 19th-century French artists




sleep, dream, oneiric images, Jean-Jacques Grandville, Victor Hugo, Odilon Redon


The article reviews the artistic activity of representatives of French graphic art – Jean-Jacques Grandville (1803–1847), Victor Hugo (1802–1885), and Odilon Redon (1840–1916), who became founders of new interpretations for dreams in 19th-century art. We analyzed artists’ key works representing the world of dreams with the help of concrete images and symbols. The article outlines special features of dream depiction in French graphic art of the second half of the 19th century. 

In the 19th century, the increased interest in the topic of dreams in France related to French scientist Alfred Maury (1817-1892). His book “Sleep & Dreams” (1861) influenced conceptually the activity of French artists who researched the unconscious with the help of visual language. The French art of the 19th century gradually withdrew from traditional European plots of dreams depiction of previous years that can be encountered in the artworks of Henry Fuseli, Francisco Goya, and William Blake. 

French graphic artists focused their attention on depicting the inner nature of dreams and oneiric space. They were not interested in plots with a sleeping person – they aimed to delve into the most hidden part of human subconsciousness during sleep and embody what is happening there. They approached philosophical and medical tracts devoted to the nature of dreams, inspired by spiritualism, and studied various oneiric states – insomnia, hallucinations, somnambulism, and nightmares. Dreams became the source of inspiration and infinite fantasies for 19th-century French artists. They turned into art researchers of dreams, kept «night» diaries, and wrote down their observations. Their artworks became exceptional results of these oneiric searches. The research of 19th-century French graphic artists and their innovative approaches to the depiction of dreams also play an important role in understanding the establishment and development of surrealist art at the beginning of the 20th century. 




How to Cite

Bovtun, A. (2022). Oneiric images in artworks of 19th-century French artists. TEXT AND IMAGE: ESSENTIAL PROBLEMS IN ART HISTORY, 1(13), 152–162.



Modern and Contemporary art