Art: Surrealism's Fathers

Like all history, the history of art must be constantly rewritten, for even in the most obscure artist, now forsaken or forgotten, an ancestor with a message for the present might be found. In its current big show,* Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art spotlights three new candidates for ancestorhood, three 19th century symbolists who drew their inspiration from dreams and fantasy at a time when their more powerful contemporaries, the realists and the impressionists, were in their different ways exploring nature.

Of the three—Odilon Redon, Gustave Moreau and Rodolphe Bresdin—only Redon is well...

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