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Aubrey Beardsley

William Blake

Arnold Boecklin

Henry Fuseli

Gustav Klimt

Gustave Moreau

Edvard Munch

Puvis de Chavannes

Odilon Redon

Leon Spilliaert

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Symbolism began as a literary movement that developed from Romanticism in France in the second half of the 19th century, taking its themes of decadence, dandyism and mysticism from the novels of J.K. Huysmans. The poet Jean Moreas gave the term general currency in his manifesto in Le Figaro in 1886, though the poet Stephane Mallarme developed its ideas of suggestion, ambiguity and symbolism rather than direct conveyance of meaning: 'Suggestion, that is the dream', he declared. Like Romanticism, Symbolism favoured feelings over reason, but was more intellectual in its conception. Huysmans in his novels A Rebours and La bas was significant in promoting the painters Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon and drawing the visual arts into the movement.

The use of symbols has had a long tradition in European art, and we may see origins of 19th century Symbolism in the mystical and visionary works of Piranesi, Fuseli, Goya and Friedrich. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood's return to an Early Renaissance style and mood was a more contemporary influence, The art of Symbolist painters such as Puvis de Chavannes and Eugene Carriere was thus characterized by a desire to use evocative subjects and images rather than explicit analogy or direct description. However, the movement was more interested in the content and concept of expression of the inner life rather than artistic style or form. Many Symbolists were also interested in the macabre, the mysterious and the morbid, which has been seen as a phenomenon of the fin de siecle. Symbolism had far reaching influences as a movement in reaction to Realism and Impressionism, and the Nabis and Gauguin were closely related to the Symbolists, as well as the Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler and the Norwegian Edvard Munch.

- From The Bulfinch Guide to Art History

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