Symbolist Art


Modern Art is all about personal experience.   This makes it difficult to categorize, but we do it anyway, for convenience.   I don’t think any of the artists would have cared for this, but it helps us to organize our thoughts, so we’ll put up with it.   Just be aware that many of the works we’ll be seeing transcend any label.

Imagination could easily be substituted for the vulgar realities of things.
JK Huysman, Au Rebors

Van Gogh painted his vision of reality.  His feeling for the world superseded the objects he was looking at, but he drew his inspiration from the real world.  However, at the same time he was celebrating harvests and worker’s boots,  other artists were fleeing them.  This brings us to the Symbolists.

The end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth saw the rise of Symbolist Art.  If you weren’t thrilled with smoking factories and the self satisfied middle class you found solace in the imagination.  This art celebrated myths, dreams, fears (The Fatal Woman is a common theme) and beauty for its own sake.  World War I dampened this dream world, but not entirely.  Dreams and myths will always be  themes in art because they are such a large part of our consciousness.

Gustave Moreau


I believe neither in what I touch nor what I see. I only believe in what I do not see, and solely in what I feel.

Gustave Moreau, Self Portrait, 1850

Gustave Moreau, Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1864

Gustave Moreau, Orpheus, 1865

Gustave Moreau, The Apparition, 1876

Gustave Moreau, Jupiter and Semele, 1896

Odilon Redon


My drawings inspire, and are not to be defined. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined.

Odilon Redon, Self Portrait, 1880

Odilon Redon, The Spirit of the Forest, 1880

Odilon Redon, Saint John, 1892

Odilon Redon, Flower Clouds, 1903

Odilon Redon, The Buddha, 1904

Odilon Redon, Green Death, 1905

Odilon Redon, Chariot of Apollo, 1905-1916

Odilon Redon, The Shell, 1912

Odilon Redon, Cyclops, 1914

Edward Munch


In my art I attempt to explain life and its meaning to myself.

Edvard Munch, Self Portrait, 1895






Edvard Munch, Ashes, 1894

Edvard Munch, Puberty, 1894

Edvard Munch, The Vampire, 1893-94

Edvard Munch, Dance of Life, 1900

Edvard Munch, Death of Marat, 1907

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1907

Edvard Munch, Girls on a Jetty, 1921

Gustav Klimt


I have never painted a self-portrait. I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women…There is nothing special about me. I am a painter who paints day after day from morning to night…Who ever wants to know something about me… ought to look carefully at my pictures.

Gustav Klimt, Danae, 1907

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907-08

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, 1907

Gustav Klimt, Death and Life, 1908

Gustav Klimt, Friends, 1916

And Surprise!  Look who tried his hand at Symbolist Art.   He is the subject of our next lecture.

Pablo Picasso, Life, 1903

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