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This movement flourished mostly in France in the last two decades of the 19th century. To a certain degree it evolved as an alternate intellectual and visual mind-set to those of the Impressionists; drawing it's inspiration from the Pre-Raphaelites and the Romantics. Despite its humble beginnings amongst only a handful of French artists, this style eventually came to influence many artists throughout Europe.
Here we must make the distinction between Symbolic art and Allegorical art- whereas the Symbolist uses icons as representational markings that make convey several meanings, the subject matter of any given work is meant to be implied. The viewer is given the task of unraveling the markings into some comprehensible intent, but the art itself is ambiguous and impassive in the extreme. Art is capable of conveying moods and ideas that are separate from the materialistic reality. The mode in which this message is conveyed is almost irrelevant; paintings can be presented with personal notations from the artist or poetry he\she had written. The drawing and the writing both equally transmit emotion, both are iconic languages meant to represent a facet of human emotion. The drawing is not there to illustrate the message and the writing is not there to explain it.
One group of painters of this style would be Gustave Moreau, Puvis de Chavannes and Odilon Redon- all three of which read the Symbolist writing and literature voraciously. In fact, it could be said that this movement had its root far more in the literary works, than it did the visual one. All read Charles Baudelaire's descriptions of the inherit qualities of color, light and sound, that can capture not only the human experience, but also reflect the human sentiment. Moreau dealt mostly in tension filled themes of landscape or woodland settings, with dark mythological creatures in them, and pale tragic heroes. He made either large oil painting or miniature water-color paintings, all of which were illuminated in a mystical otherworldly light. Redon painted scenes dredged up from his subconscious mind; his nightmares and dreams. Much of these works, and also the works of Chavannes were considered to be the first steps into the world of Surrealistic art.
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