04/14/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

'Darker Side Of Light' Exhibit Comes To Chicago: Obsession, Drugs, Violence Explored

Produced by HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Citizen Journalism Unit

The obsessions of a lover, opium dreams, despair of impending suicide, meditations on violence and the fear of death are themes being explored in the Smart Museum of Art's newest exhibit--just in time for Valentine's Day.

The name of the exhibit, The Darker Side of Light: Arts of Privacy, 1850-1900, refers to another dimension of the reign of Paris as the city of light and Impressionism during the second half of the nineteenth century. As the mainstream swooned over Impressionist paintings of beautiful landscapes and bustling Parisian streets, a more melancholy art world thrived underground--featuring darker images not for public display.

Organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the show comprises an intimate display of prints, drawings, illustrated books and small sculptures that express the artists' thematic visions in nature, cities, other-worldly creatures, love and death. Many of the great artists of the period explored the medium, creating opposing styles and schools of thought under the radar screen of the masses.

Etching was revived and became the popular medium of the movement. The works of Mary Cassatt, James McNeill Whistler and Max Klinger, among others, take the viewer into a somber, introspective, private world of self-revelation. Albert Besnard's "Morphine Addicts" reveal the knowing, opportunistic eyes of two female addicts. Adolphe Appean's "Nocturne (Fisherman in a Boat)" shows a lone fisherman engulfed in the night's natural beauty.

"The Vampire," an almost campy etching by Charles Meryon of an imaginary gargoyle-like creature sitting atop the city, is further underscored by the writing beneath the credit:

"Eternal Lust above the city broods
Insatiable vampire, coveting its food"

Lacking the public catharsis of a modern day Oprah, Celebrity Rehab or best-selling tell-all books, people turned to these works to reflect on their darker nature. Collectors hid them away in cabinets and portfolios to be taken out for private experience. It is considered to be an important chapter in the history of collecting as a private endeavor.

A walk through collection still provides an escape from the distractions of modern life. The art seems to offer timeless portals into the private interior of the soul and shows that personal suffering and conflict rarely changes. Despite the subject matter, it is by no means depressing, but rather a communal experience of the demons that haunt us all.

The Darker Side of Light: Arts of Privacy will be on display until June 13 at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago.