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SSymbolism - An art movement which rejected the purely visual realism of the Impressionists, and the rationality of the Industrial Age, in order to depict the symbols of ideas. Influenced by Romanticism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, it thrived in France in the late nineteenth century, its influence spreading throughout much of Europe. Rather than the precise equivalents of ideas or emotions, its symbols were meant to be more mysterious, ambiguous suggestions of meanings. The work of one group, including Piérre Puvis de Chavannes (French, 1824-1898), Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898), and Odilon Redon (French, 1840-1916), took a literary approach, employing some of the imagery of Symbolist writers, including such icons as severed heads, monsters and glowing or smoky spirits, synthesized from elements of Bible stories and ancient myths. Later, the imaginative incongruities in these works were to influence the Surrealists. Another group, taking a formal approach, in which linear stylizations and innovative uses of color produced emotional effects, included Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903), Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890) and the Nabis.

Examples of Symbolist works:

 

see thumbnail to rightPierre Puvis de Chavannes (French, 1824-1898), Sleep, 1867 or 1870, oil on canvas, 26 1/8 x 41 3/4 inches (66.4 x 106 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

 

 

 

see thumbnail to leftPierre Puvis de Chavannes, Beheading of St. John the Baptist (La Décollation de St. Jean Baptiste), 1869, oil on canvas, about 48 x 64 inches, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham, England. This was exhibited in the influential Armory Show of 1913.

 

see thumbnail to rightPierre Puvis de Chavannes, Ludus pro patria (Patriotic Games), oil on canvas, 13 1/8 x 52 7/8 inches (33.3 x 134.3 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

 

see thumbnail to leftPierre Puvis de Chavannes, Inter artes et naturam (Between Art and Nature), oil on canvas, 15 7/8 x 44 3/4 inches (40.3 x 113.7 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

 

 

see thumbnail to rightPierre Puvis de Chavannes, The Shepherd's Song, 1891, oil on canvas, 41 1/8 x 43 1/4 inches (104.5 x 109.9 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

 

 

 

 

see thumbnail to leftGustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898), Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1864, oil on canvas, 81 1/4 x 41 1/4 inches (206.4 x 104.8 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See mythology and sphinx.

 

 

 

see thumbnail to rightGustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898), The Unicorn, 1885, oil on canvas, Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris. See horn.

 

 

Gustave Moreau, Jupiter and Semele, 1898, and The Peacock complaining to Juno, 1881.

 

 

see thumbnail to leftArnold Böcklin (Swiss, 1827-1901), The Island of the Dead, 1883, oil on wood panel, 80 x 150 cm, Nationalgalerie, Berlin. See Romanticism.

 

 

 

see thumbnail to rightOdilon Redon (French, 1840-1916), The Light of Day (Le Jour), Plate VI from "Songes", 1891, lithograph, 8 1/4 x 6 1/8 inches. This was exhibited in the Armory Show of 1913.

 

 

 

see thumbnail to leftOdilon Redon (French, 1840-1916), Profile of a Woman with a Vase of Flowers, c.1895-1905, oil on canvas, 65.5 x 50.5 cm, Tate Gallery, London.

 

 

 

see thumbnail to rightOdilon Redon, Madame Arthur Fontaine (Marie Escudier), 1901, pastel on paper, 28 1/2 x 22 1/2 inches (72.4 x 57.2 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

 

 

see thumbnail to leftOdilon Redon, Etruscan Vase with Flowers, 1900-10, tempera on canvas, 32 x 23 1/4 inches (81.3 x 59.1 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. See Symbolism.

 

 

 

see thumbnail to rightOdilon Redon (French, 1840-1916), Roger and Angelica, c. 1910, pastel on paper, 36 1/2 x 28 3/4 inches, Museum of Modern Art, NY. This was exhibited in the Armory Show of 1913.

 

 

see thumbnail to leftOdilon Redon, Silence, n.d., oil on canvas, 29 1/4 x 29 inches, Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

 

 

 

 

 

see thumbnail to rightEdvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944), Madonna, 1895-1902, lithograph and woodcut, complete: 23 3/4 x 17 1/2 inches (60.5 x 44.5 cm), edition: c. 250, Museum of Modern Art, NY. This was exhibited in the influential Armory Show of 1913. See Expressionism and Madonna.

 

 

see thumbnail to leftMaurice Denis (French, 1870-1943), Orpheus and Eurydice, 1910, oil on canvas, 45 1/4 x 65 inches, Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

 

 

 

 

Sir Thomas Malory (British, 15th c.), Author; Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898), Illustrator; London: J. M. Dent and Co., 1893, Publisher, Morte d'Arthur, 1893, printed book; 12 pts. : ill. , pl. ; 26 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
see thumbnail to rightIllustrated: Aubrey Beardsley's design for the printed paper wrapper from Part I. See illustration.

see thumbnail to leftAubrey Beardsley, The Dream, 1896, pen and black ink, J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, CA.


 

 

 

see thumbnail to rightBoleslas Biegas (Polish, 1877-1954), 1902, Sphinx, sculpture, bust, Musée d'Orsay, Paris. See Polish art, and sphinx.

 

 

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Also see expressionism, fanciful, grotesque, oneiric, and Surrealism.

 

 

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