Who were the Symbolists in 19th century French Painting

Symbolism was a late 19th-century movement in the arts. Symbolism originate as a literary movement, but it spread-out into other areas of the arts, namely painting. As an art movement Symbolism was primarily focused in France, the Netherlands, Russia and Belgium. (Read more after Break)

The principal philosophy which was at the core of the symbolist movement was that a person could express their ideas symbolically. Therefore a direct approach (or also known as an objective observation of the subject at hand) could be replaced with a decidedly more subjective interpretation of what one is trying to convey to the viewer. The Symbolists believed that are should be used to represent what they regarded as absolute truths which could only be described through indirect means, so as to not offend people but also to conform to their subjective approach to the arts in general. As a result their art could be described as highly metaphorical and had a suggestive manner, which was acheived through endowing certain images with symbolic meanings.

With regard to the visual arts, Symbolism employed the same practices but applied them to the canvas. The Symbolists painters rather than seeking to replicate the forms which were present in nature, sought to convey ideas or insinuate emotions in their paintings. In their paintings the artist alluded to particular subject matter through symbolic images and they strove to create fluidity in their compositions.

Key Symbolist Painters are:

  • Gustave Moreau.
  • Odilon Redon.
  • Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.
There works were:
  • Decadent.
  • Erotic.
  • Religious.
  • Mystical in their nature.

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