Symbolism Art Movement
Symbolism began as a literary movement, but it was immediately adopted by a group of young visual painters who adhered to its guidelines.
Unmodulated hues, broad brushwork, and flat, abstract forms are all hallmarks of Symbolist painting. It's worth noting that the Symbolists were a loose collective of artists with a variety of artistic styles and approaches. They were all members of the Symbolist movement because they emphasized the significance of imagination and emotions over realism and reason.
Art Movement of Symbolism
What is Symbolism?
The emphasis on emotions, sentiments, ideas, and subjectivity rather than realism is what links the numerous artists and styles linked with Symbolism. Their works are personal and convey their views, such as the belief in the artist's ability to disclose reality.
The Symbolists merged religious mysticism, the perverse, the sexual, and the decadent in terms of subject matter. The occult, the morbid, the dream realm, sadness, evil, and death are all common themes in symbolist subject matter.
Who are symbolists?
Symbolist painters strived for complexity and suggestion in the intimate, half-stated, and obscure references demanded by their literary and musical equivalents, rather than the one-to-one, direct-relationship symbolism seen in earlier forms of mainstream iconography.
Symbolism served as a bridge between Romanticism in the early nineteenth century and modernism in the early twentieth century. Furthermore, the internationalism of Symbolism casts doubt on the widely assumed historical trajectory of modern art in France, which runs from Impressionism to Cubism.
When did symbolism first become popular?
Symbolism began as a literary movement in the late 1800s that resisted the rationalism and materialism that dominated Western society. The movement's roots may be traced back to 1886, when writer Jean Moreas wrote his famous Symbolist Manifesto.
Every person, natural element, and object, according to the manifesto, should be used as a representation of a deeper thought or emotion. Rather than imitating reality, Moreas felt that artists should convey it through symbols.
What is the meaning of symbolism?
The word "symbol" comes from the Latin symbolum, a symbol of faith, and symbolus, a sign of recognition, which comes from the classical Greek v symbolon, a cut-in-half object that served as a sign of recognition when the carriers were able to reunite the two pieces.
The symbolon was a shard of pottery engraved and then broken into two pieces and delivered to diplomats from two allied city states as a record of the alliance in ancient Greece.
Symbolists portrayed feelings, thoughts, and imaginations rather than depicting their direct actuality.
Symbolists were looking for a way to get away from their mundane lives. Their personal beliefs, fancies, legendary and biblical stories provided a haven for them. Love, erotism, and sex are frequently depicted in Symbolist works, as are terror, decadence, death, and the occult.
Most Symbolists used broad, unmodulated color strokes to create flat, abstract images and patterns. Puvis de Chavannes popularized the technique by using highly simple forms to explain abstract notions. The interest in the subconscious was sparked by German philosopher von Schelling and Sigmund Freud, who had a significant influence on the movement.
Symbolists were influenced by psychoanalysis and frequently depicted the inner lives of their characters. The mutual stare of the subjects in the painting Oedipus and the Sphinx, for example, is a sign of introspection, the need to examine within oneself.
Women have become the most popular subjects for expressing feelings. Women were either depicted as femme fatales or capricious virgins, and their portrayal was limited to extremes. Women were frequently depicted by Gustave Moreau as murderers and man-eating sphinxes. He even created a series of paintings inspired by Salome, the woman who ordered John the Baptist's execution. Most Symbolists liked the idea of seductive but dangerous women, and it was a popular theme in literature and art at the time.
The Manifesto of the Symbolists
Jean Moreas wrote an article titled "Le Symbolisme" that published in the French daily Le Figaro on September 18, 1886. Symbolism, according to Moréas, was designed to "clothe the Ideal in a visible shape" and was opposed to "plain meanings and matter-of-fact description."
Symbolists believed that art should reveal more absolute truths that could only be accessed indirectly through metaphorical imagery and suggestive shapes holding symbolic meaning, in simple terms.
Symbolist painters and sculptors were influenced by contemporary literature and poetry, as well as historical legends, myths, Biblical stories, and fables.
Symbolist artists imbued their subjects (women, heroic guys, flowers, landscapes, animals) with mythological or other esoteric meanings to express themselves. To fuel their creativity, many artists turned to stimulants like alcohol and narcotics. Sensual issues, religious impulses, occultism, love, death, disease, and vice were all popular symbolist subjects, and decadence was a recurring theme.
Symbolism Art and Artists
Orpheus, by Gustave Moreau (1865)
Gustave Moreau drew inspiration from Greek mythology for his 1865 masterwork. The myth of Orpheus being dismembered by Dionysiac devotees is depicted in this piece. In the presence of the young woman, the artwork's uncertainties are confined. At first look, she appears to be announcing Orpheus' death.
On closer inspection, though, you'll see her bare feet, which hint she could be one of his assassins. One of the fundamental features of Symbolist aesthetics is the representation of woman as femme fatale.
The idea of a menacing femininity captivated many Symbolists. A typical motif that represents psychoanalysis and introspection is two faces mirroring one other.
Jupiter and Semele by Gustave Moreau (1895)
This picture depicts the myth of Jupiter, the heavenly ruler of the gods, and Semele (the embodiment of all that is earthly), who, on Jupiter's wife Juno's recommendation, requests Jupiter to make love to her in his glorious splendour. Jupiter can't resist the allure of her beauty, although he knows she'll be consumed by his divinity's light and fire (he is crowned with thunderbolts).
As a result, the picture represents humanity's union with the divine, which culminates in death. But, as the artist put it, "Everything has been altered, cleansed, and idealized.
The Divine infuses everything, and immortality starts." Death, corruption, and resurrection are all themes that appear. Moreau, like Wagner, followed in the footsteps of his music, creating pictures in the style of symphonic poems in terms of detail and color, while that same trait kept him from stressing the more modern parts of Symbolism.
The artist used a more traditional technique to express himself, but as with Symbolism, meaning emerges from the shapes themselves; humanity is small-scaled and vulnerable in its fleshy voluptuousness.
Jupiter's androgynous appearance alludes to the dreaming artist's isolation and the life of ideas. Moreau, who is crucial to any study of Symbolism, contributed to the more literary components of the movement, taking his subjects from the Bible or, in this case, mythology, while also pointing out some of the modern age's neuroses.
Odilon Redon's Eye Rises to Infinity Like a Strange Balloon (1882)
Even though Edgar Allan Poe had been dead for 33 years at the time of Redon's lithograph, and that both Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé had translated his works between 1852 and 1872, this is not an illustrated narrative of Poe's work; rather, it is a parallel to it in its evocation of the writer's macabre world. The solitary eye, which represents God's all-seeing eye, is an old emblem that has been modified here.
The vast scale of the eye represents the spirit coming forth from the swamp's dead stuff. It is a physical organ that looks up to the divine, carrying the dead skull with it. The ethereal area, as well as the aura of light surrounding the main image, contribute to the notion of the supernatural.
Within a fantasy realm, the piece inspires a sense of mystery. Redon's paintings, on the other hand, should not be confused with Surrealism because they are intended to convey a unified, precise concept - the head as the source of imagination and the soul embedded in matter.
In addition, Redon's paintings differ from Surrealism in that the vision can be constructed. Redon's visions are ethereal and grotesque, but they are ultimately reality. "I addressed the unlikely through the unlikely," the artist wrote, "and could offer visual coherence to the imaginative aspects that I noticed." Redon was more of a modernist than some of the Symbolists.
Despite being a Symbolist, he was also interested in the scientific materialism of the period, such as Charles Darwin's work on evolution, the study of zoological forms, and, as evidenced in this work, the technology of the popular hot air balloons. His work was a depiction of his private universe conveyed in personal symbols, making it more accessible to interpretation and allowing the audience to comprehend what hidden realities lurked inside the shapes.
Death and the Masks, by James Ensor (1897)
The skull of Death in the center, with its sinister grin, and the masks of the people are given lifelike features by Ensor; the mask becomes the face, but it is still a mask that tries to hide the bourgeoisie's spiritual hollowness and the decadence of the times.
The packed composition suggests that this is a widespread issue, and that the painting represents a commentary of modern society by the artist. Ensor was interested in masks because his mother had a souvenir store that sold items like these papier mache masks worn during Belgium's carnival season.
Ensor envisioned a return to his home Belgium's "clean and natural" local carnivals and festivals to foster cultural unity, but he recognized that tourism, commercialization, and industrialisation would hinder this. Furthermore, as seen in the work of Hieronymus Bosch and even Pieter Bruegel, Ensor was heir to the entire Northern legacy of caricature, the grotesque, and fantasy.
In contrast to Bosch and Bruegel's naturalistic grounding, Ensor chooses a light, brilliant palette that conveys fun and folly while also employing a rough and tactile application of paint that signals the depth and misery of the times' depression. Thus, before the Expressionists of the early twentieth century, Ensor used raw color and violent texture to strip down to the layers of the human psyche, diving its depths, in addition to augmenting his Symbolic lexicon with subtle political connotations.
The Three Brides by Jan Toorop (1893)
Jan Toorop employs silhouettes of brides as emblems of three phases of the soul in his 1893 painting. The bride in the center symbolizes purity. She's caught between the spiritual (represented by the Madonna-like bride on the left) and the evil (represented by the demon on the right) (the satanic bride adorned with skulls).
The artwork is full of symbols, such as the bed of thorns, which represents the challenges of life, and the bowl of blood, which represents passion. Toorop is distinct from other Symbolists in that he drew his main mystical inspiration for his art from non-Western sources. The Three Brides and their elongated-armed slaves are inspired by Javanese puppet theater.