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Symbolism

1880 - 1910

Modernism

Symbolism

Some artistic movements evolve naturally out of decades of cultural change, others emerge with new technology or invention. But near the end of the 19th century, movements sprouted from the feverish pens of writers.

In 1886 Jean Moréas, a poet and art critic, published The Symbolist Manifesto in Le Figaro, one of France’s most respected newspapers. At the time, Romanticism had been the dominant voice in art and literature through Europe for more than 75 years, and Moréas's screed called Romantic expression ‘dried out and shriveled’ and worse — ‘full of common sense.’ In its place Moréas called for a new manifestation of art — an expression of subjective ideas instead of purely realistic depictions of the world.

It was a tremendously appealing idea the painters of the time — a call to focus on their own subjective visions and a return to a mysterious world of myths and legends. Artists flocked to the new method, developing a formal, simplified style reminiscent of early Grecian sculpture. Paul Gauguin became a poster boy for imbuing simple images with mythic weight, and Puvis de Chavannes turned every day scenes into column rituals. Odilon Redon would push the bounds of Symbolism even further, bringing to life the monsters and creatures of his dark and whimsical imagination.

Gustave Moreau is considered to be the pinnacle of Symbolism by many, because his opulently textured works brought re-envisioned classical themes like Venus and the Muses within a vivid fantastical dramascape.

History hasn’t popularized Symbolism to the same level as art’s more unified movements, like Impressionism or Cubism — for a number of reasons. Symbolist artists worked in many styles, united in pursuit of personal expression rather than aesthetic or technique. And as Symbolism evolved, it evolved into many other movements, influencing Gustav Klimt's Art Nouveau, and Edvard Munch’s expressionist portraits of modern anxiety.

Symbolism was a dark, emotional slice of art history, but it was pivotal in the germination of Modernism, and the establishment of the kinds of visionary artists we see today.

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William Blake

Art is life, science is death

1757-1827
Pity

Pity

William Blake,1795

I travelled through a land of men, A land of men and women too, And heard and saw such dreadful things, As cold earth wanderers never knew.

The Mental Traveler

William Blake,1803
Angel of the Revelation

Angel of the Revelation

William Blake,1803-1805
Elohim Creating Adam

Elohim Creating Adam

William Blake,1805
The Sun at his Eastern Gate

The Sun at his Eastern Gate

William Blake,1816-1820

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

The Forgotten Master

1824-1898

Gustave Moreau

A hermit explores the dreamscape

1826-1898
Beatrice Addressing Dante from the Car

Beatrice Addressing Dante from the Car

William Blake,1824-1827
Minos

Minos

William Blake,1824-1827
Dante Running from the Three Beasts

Dante Running from the Three Beasts

William Blake,1824-1827

William Morris

How can you run a socialist company in a capitalist economy?

1834-1896

Odilon Redon

The faces we see in our dreams

1840-1916

Ferdinand Hodler

Lover of beauty, pursued by the specter of death

1853-1918

Mikhail Vrubel

The man who fell in love with a demon

1856-1910

Maurice Denis

Art as prophesy

1870-1943

Romaine Brooks

Fiercely independent lesbian paints Paris in shades of gray

1874-1970

Nicholas Roerich

Follow your bliss.

1874-1947
Figure

Figure

Odilon Redon,1876

Zinaida Serebriakova

Widowed mother of four leaves Russia for Paris.

1884-1967

The essential character of symbolic art consists in never approaching the concentrated kernel of the Idea in itself.

Symbolist Manifesto

1886
The Yellow Christ

The Yellow Christ

Paul Gauguin,1889
Night

Night

Ferdinand Hodler,1890
The Demon Seated

The Demon Seated

Mikhail Vrubel,1890
In the Vanilla Grove, Man and Horse

In the Vanilla Grove, Man and Horse

Paul Gauguin,1891
Worship

Worship

Ferdinand Hodler,1893
The Halberdier

The Halberdier

Ferdinand Hodler,1895
Music 1

Music 1

Gustav Klimt,1895
The Scream

The Scream

Edvard Munch,1895
The Wounded Standard Bearer Hans Baer

The Wounded Standard Bearer Hans Baer

Ferdinand Hodler,1896
The Dream of the Shepherd

The Dream of the Shepherd

Ferdinand Hodler,1896
Portrait of a Young Woman - Vaite Jeanne Goupil

Portrait of a Young Woman - Vaite Jeanne Goupil

Paul Gauguin,1896
Figures in a Spring Landscape (Sacred Grove)

Figures in a Spring Landscape (Sacred Grove)

Maurice Denis,1897
Two Tahitian Women

Two Tahitian Women

Paul Gauguin,1899
The Demon Flying

The Demon Flying

Mikhail Vrubel,1899
Springtime

Springtime

Maurice Denis,1894-1899
Pegasus and the Muse

Pegasus and the Muse

Odilon Redon,1900
Swan Princess

Swan Princess

Mikhail Vrubel,1900
Goldfish

Goldfish

Gustav Klimt,1901-1902
The Fallen Demon

The Fallen Demon

Mikhail Vrubel,1902
Hope 1

Hope 1

Gustav Klimt,1903
The Brooch / Eva Mudocci

The Brooch / Eva Mudocci

Edvard Munch,1903
Pearl Oyster

Pearl Oyster

Mikhail Vrubel,1904
Six-Winged Seraphim

Six-Winged Seraphim

Mikhail Vrubel,1904
The Three Ages of Woman

The Three Ages of Woman

Gustav Klimt,1905
The Large Figure Paintings, No. 5 Group 3

The Large Figure Paintings, No. 5 Group 3

Hilma af Klint,1907
Hope 2

Hope 2

Gustav Klimt,1907-1908
Danaë

Danaë

Gustav Klimt,1907-1908
The Kiss

The Kiss

Gustav Klimt,1907-1908
Psyche Panel 7 — Cupid Carrying Psyche Up to Heaven

Psyche Panel 7 — Cupid Carrying Psyche Up to Heaven

Maurice Denis,1908
Psyche Panel 1 — Eros is Struck by Psyche's Beauty

Psyche Panel 1 — Eros is Struck by Psyche's Beauty

Maurice Denis,1908
Psyche Panel 2 — Zephyr Transporting Psyche to the Island of Delight

Psyche Panel 2 — Zephyr Transporting Psyche to the Island of Delight

Maurice Denis,1908
Psyche Panel 3 — Psyche Discovers that Her Mysterious Lover is Eros

Psyche Panel 3 — Psyche Discovers that Her Mysterious Lover is Eros

Maurice Denis,1908
Buddha

Buddha

Odilon Redon,1910
Silence

Silence

Odilon Redon,1911
Der Frühling (Fassung IV)

Der Frühling (Fassung IV)

Ferdinand Hodler,1912
The Birth of Venus

The Birth of Venus

Odilon Redon,1912
Death and Life

Death and Life

Gustav Klimt,1910-1915
Doves No. 2

Doves No. 2

Hilma af Klint,1915
Wave

Wave

Maurice Denis,1916
Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve

Gustav Klimt,1917-1918
Cantilever Cupola with Five Hilltops

Cantilever Cupola with Five Hilltops

Wenzel Hablik,1924
Pisces

Pisces

Man Ray,1938