Art History and Artists
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.
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.
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.
Famous Symbolism Artists
- Pierre Purvis de Chavannes - This French painter was one of the leaders of the Symbolist movement. He was also known for painting murals in buildings.
- Vilhelm Hammershoi - A Danish painter known for his symbolist portraits and stark interiors.
- Ferdinand Hodler - A well known Swiss painter who became part of the Expressionist movement late in his career.
- Gustav Klimt - Klimt's paintings have gained fame in recent years. He was an Austrian painter who worked in Vienna. His most famous paintings include The Kiss as well as two portraits of Adele Bloch-Bauer.
- Gustave Moreau - Moreau used Biblical as well as mythological characters in many of his paintings.
- Edvard Munch - Most famous for his painting The Scream, this Norwegian artist had a great influence on the Expressionist movement.
- Odilon Redon - This French painter was a leader of the Symbolism movement. He said his work was meant to inspire people.
- Hugo Simberg - A Finnish painter, Simberg is most famous for his painting The Wounded Angel.
- Victor Vasnetsov - A leader in the Russian art revival, Vasnetsov painted both historical and mythological subjects.
- Symbolism had a great influence on Expressionism and Surrealism, two future artistic movements.
- The Symbolist Manifesto was published by essayist and poet Jean Moreas in 1886.
- The famous Post-impressionist artist Paul Gauguin is sometimes considered a Symbolist painter.
- It can be thought of more of a philosophy about the content and meaning of art than a specific style.
- Many Symbolist artists would deliberately make the meaning of their work obscure and not explain it. This way the viewer could make their own interpretation.
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