Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931), Lake Keitele, 1905, Lahti Art Museum, Viipuri Foundation.

AMSTERDAM - Recently I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, finding myself in exceptional company: the great-grandson of Vincent’s brother Theo van Gogh guided me through the collection, pointing out the paintings that had been hanging in his childhood home.

It was interesting to hear his comments on the paintings with which he has been living during his childhood and, with Van Gogh blood running through his veins, his artistic view on Vincent’s work.

In the new wing of the museum, the exhibition Dreams of Nature. Symbolism Van Gogh to Kandinsky was on view, travelling to the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh after 14 June.

Having finished my studies back in 1986 with a thesis on The Transition to Abstraction in Western Art, this exhibition stirred up again the fire of my interest for art on the verge of that drastic change in the history of art: Abstraction. There are aspects in Symbolist art that already point towards Abstraction; views on perception and psychology changed dramatically during this era, the neo-Platonic idea of reality as a mere reflection of a higher world was widely adopted among artists then, provoking them to eschew reality to evoke moods, existential emotions and deep thoughts.

What a joy, not only to see the famous protagonists of Symbolist art like Böcklin, Khnopff and Spilliaert in this exhibition, but also more obscure but fascinating artists like Ciurlionis, experimenting with synaesthesia – a fusion of different sensory perceptions – by representing musical ideas in painting. Music was considered to be the only art with direct access to the soul and therefore fit to evoke deep emotions. Ciurlionis’ rhythmic, cosmic paintings have musical titles like Sonata no. 6 (Star sonata) allegro and andante. Dated 1908, this is abstract art avant la lettre.