Symbolism Art Movement

France 1886 – 1910

Symbolism Art Movement, History, Symbolist Paintings & Artists.

Symbolism in oil paintings can be seen as a revival of some mystical tendencies in the Romantic tradition and was close to the morbid and private decadent movement. The Symbolist painters used mythological and dream imagery. They turned to the legends and myths of both history and the Bible as well as the literary art of the time to tell a story on canvas, imbuing their subjects with heroic qualities and esoteric meaning. What is meant, that truth does not have to be depicted, the human mind can understand it through metaphor, and, through symbolism.

The Symbolists rejected the grittiness and over the accuracy of Realism, but also shied away from the fantasy and disingenuousness of Romanticism. They united into express emotions, feelings, and ideas through the human mind’s ability to understand the plain truth through association, metaphors, and symbols. The term "symbolism" is derived from the word "symbol" which derives from the Latin symbolum, a symbol of faith. The “symbols” in this movement have nothing to do with symbols, the Cross or the Dollar sign are recognizable symbols. Here the meaning is, for example, you have a dream, what could that symbolize and what is the meaning of it? This artwork was left up to the viewer to make up their own mind about the meaning of the painting, much as faith is left up to the individual to believe in whatever they want.

Symbolist Painters High on the Hallucinogenic Absinthe.

The year 1886 gave birth to the Symbolism movement with the publication of the Symbolist Manifesto by poet Jean Moreas in the newspaper Le Figaro. It is no coincidence that 1886 was also the year of the Impressionists last group exhibit. Symbolism, a sophisticated and elitist, visual counterpart to contemporary literary movements, evolved in firm opposition to the colorful, natural images of the Impressionists and looked beyond reality for the true meaning of existence. Symbolism spread throughout Europe without generating a common style, due in part by the neurotic and individualistic characters of the various famous artists.

The visual arts in the Symbolism movement geared toward subject matter that was almost taboo, such as erotic, perverse, melancholy, macabre, or that dealt with religious mysticism, the occult, or secret knowledge. Many symbolist artists used drugs to put them into the states they thought necessary to create their art. Many artists and writers living in France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were fans of the hallucinogenic drink, Absinthe, and featured absinthe in their works.

The symbolist painters were an important influence on Expressionism and Surrealism in painting, two movements which descend from symbolism proper. In Belgium, symbolism became so popular that it came to be thought of as a national style: painters like René Magritte can be considered as a direct continuation of symbolism. The closest counterpart to symbolism was Aestheticism. The pre-Raphaelites were contemporaries of the earlier Symbolists, and have much in common with them also. More a philosophy than an actual style of art, symbolism in painting influenced the contemporary Art Nouveau style and Les Nabis.

Other Symbolism artists: James Ensor, Jan Toorop, Hieronymus Bosch, Léon Frédéric, Gustav Klimt, Félicien Rops, Henri Rousseau, Léon Spilliaert, Frida Kahlo

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