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Symbolism

History >> Art History

General Overview

Symbolism was an art movement in response to Realism and Impressionism. Poets, musicians, artists, and writers all used Symbolism to express meaning in an indirect manner. Symbolist painters wanted their pictures to depict a meaning beyond just the figures they drew.

When was the Symbolism movement?

The Symbolism movement took place in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was born in France, but there were strong movements in Russia, Belgium, and Austria as well.

What are the characteristics of Symbolism?

Symbolist painters used a wide variety of subjects including heroes, women, animals, and landscapes. They typically gave these subjects deep meanings such as love, death, sin, religion, or disease. They would use metaphors (or symbols) rather than real life to represent something.

Examples of Symbolism Art

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (Gustav Klimt)

This portrait of a woman was sold for $135 million in 2006. At the time it was the most expensive painting ever sold. In the painting the model is covered in a golden gown. The gown is extremely decorated with fancy details and gold leaf. The gown forms a powerful symbol of a person changing their identity as well as the hope of the future.

Symbolism painting by Klimt
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
(Click image to see larger version)

The Wounded Angel (Hugo Simberg)

In this painting, a young angel is being carried by two boys. The angel is wounded and the two boys are very serious. One of the boys is looking directly at the viewer. The angel was a symbol of the ideal, but it was wounded when it meets with reality. It was voted Finland's national painting in 2006.

The Wounded Angel by Simberg
The Wounded Angel
(Click image to see larger version)

Ida Reading a Letter (Vilhelm Hammershoi)

Hammershoi often painted sparse interiors and portraits with the person turned to the side or with their backs to the viewer. In this picture Ida, Hammershoi's wife, is sideways reading a letter. The door to her right is open, inviting her to leave. The table appears to have only one setting. These symbols give the viewer the feeling of loneliness that the lady is feeling while reading the letter.

Ida Reading by Hammershoi
Ida Reading a Letter
(Click image to see larger version)

Famous Symbolism Artists
Interesting Facts about Symbolism Activities

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