Symbolist Painting – The Age of Decadence


Symbolism is a relatively unknown art movement and provides a fascinating alternative to Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Symbolism has its roots in German Romanticism and the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, but develops a language of its own. Whereas the Impressionists looked outwards at the world observing and often painting on the spot, the Symbolists looked inwards basing their art on imagination and dreams.

Its themes include the femme fatale, the vampire, dreams, sexual fantasies, and nostalgia for a mythical past. The lecture is based on these various themes which appear time and time again in Symbolist painting is different forms. Another aspect of Symbolism is its international nature being popular in Belgium, Holland, France, Austria, Italy and Germany as well as the Scandinavian countries. Many of the later Pre-Raphaelites in Britain can also be considered as part of the Symbolist movement in particular Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Watts and Waterhouse.

Many of the artists suffered isolation and depression, but their work is exciting and original. The many artists discussed include Munch, Aubrey Beardsley, Redon, Puvis de Chavannes, Gauguin, Ensor, Khnopff, Klimt and Mucha.

In conclusion I relate Symbolism to both Art Nouveau and Surrealism. This is a fascinating area of 19th century painting which is not fully appreciated nor understood.