Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 11, 2023

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most well-known poets and fiction authors in the world - his name is synonymous with almost anything haunting and macabre.

In Baltimore, though, Poe enjoys even greater status: The fact that he lived and died here makes him a local celebrity.

From now until Jan. 17, local Poe enthusiasts and first-timers alike can frequent the Baltimore Museum of Art for an exhibition entitled Edgar Allan Poe: A Baltimore Icon.

For those not familiar with the city-wide icon, this exhibit is a good introduction to the author and his works.

The display is divided into two sections: The first introduces Poe, his admirers and their artistic and literary achievement - heavily influenced by Poe, of course - and the second explores the major themes of Poe's poems and short stories.

There are illustrated books, summaries of stories and poems, biographies of Poe and the artists and poets who were inspired by him, as well as a wide range of art originating from all over the world. The first room demonstrates Poe's influence on artists and writers from other countries - France, in particular.

First, the BMA introduces Stéphane Mallarmé, a French poet of the 1860s whose symbolic poetry was influenced by Poe. Out of deep respect and reverence for Poe, Mallarmé translated the majority of Poe's poems and brought about the French interest in American works.

His translations inspired artists such as Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse, whose paintings and sketches are also displayed in this room.

Charles Baudelaire was also fond of Poe's writings and actually considered Poe to be his American counterpart. The exhibit explains how French artists were among the first to transform Poe's portraits, poems and stories into interesting visual representations. The first section also boasts portraits of Edgar Allan Poe.

These exist in the form of sketches, woodcuts, bronze medals and other media. Thus, the first half of the exhibit, in demonstrating Poe's widespread influence, validates Baltimore's obsession with this troubled, brilliant man.

The second half is more exclusively about Poe and his work, though there are still many illustrations that draw inspiration from his stories.

Such a fact demonstrates further how Poe's ideas are a constant source of inspiration for visual media. This section is the bigger of the two and examines Poe's three main themes: Love and Loss, Fear and Terror, and Madness and Obsession.

Love and Loss is the first to stick out, because this section is almost exclusively dedicated to what is possibly Poe's most famous work: "The Raven."

Accompanying a summary of "The Raven" are drawings, paintings and woodcuttings of ravens, and illustrated copies of the poem.

There are also biographical facts about Poe, pointing out possible reasons for his preoccupations with love and death.

For example, a sign explains how Poe lost his mother to tuberculosis when he was two years old, only to later lose his young wife, Virginia, to the same disease. Thus, the fragility of life and the sense of loss are two major motifs in "The Raven" and many of Poe's other works.

In the Madness and Obsession section, Poe's first-person narratives - typically those of a male speaker with an unbalanced mind, recounting a chilling tale - are explored.

The BMA displays and explains Poe's apparent preoccupation with certain features such as eyes, evidenced by works such as "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Oval Portrait" and "The Black Cat."

Finally, the Fear and Terror section examines several works, including "A Descent into the Maelstr??m," "MS. Found in a Bottle," "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Bells."

This section has an interactive feature, designed for children. It is called "Cats, Rats, and Ravens" and is essentially a flashlight shadow puppet game. Visitors can take a flashlight and shine it into a dark corner filled with cats, rats and ravens - the shadows that are created are supposed to be symbolic or reminiscent of Poe's works.

Baltimore is a treasure trove for Poe memorablia and history: Both his house and his grave at Westminster Hall are popular tourist attractions.

The BMA's exhibit on Edgar Allan Poe is a good complement to these sites, as well as an interesting collection of works both by Poe and by those inspired by him. It obviously accomplishes its purpose, which, according to the BMA, is to examine Poe's impact on artists over the last two centuries, especially in France and America.

Additionally, the BMA displays Poe-inspired art from England, Germany, Switzerland, Australia and more. There is a reading corner in which one can read the full versions of works summarized by the exhibit.

If this fantastic exhibit is not enough to satisfy the curiosity of a Poe enthusiast, then visit to find out more about Poe-related attractions in Baltimore.

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