Symbolism (arts)

Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts seeking to represent absolute truths symbolically through language and metaphorical images, mainly as a reaction against naturalism and realism.

Death and the Grave Digger (La Mort et le Fossoyeur) (c. 1895) by Carlos Schwabe is a visual compendium of symbolist motifs. The angel of Death, pristine snow, and the dramatic poses of the characters all express symbolist longings for transfiguration "anywhere, out of the world".

In literature, the style originates with the 1857 publication of Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal. The works of Edgar Allan Poe, which Baudelaire admired greatly and translated into French, were a significant influence and the source of many stock tropes and images. The aesthetic was developed by Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine during the 1860s and 1870s. In the 1880s, the aesthetic was articulated by a series of manifestos and attracted a generation of writers. The term "symbolist" was first applied by the critic Jean Moréas, who invented the term to distinguish the Symbolists from the related Decadents of literature and of art.

Distinct from, but related to, the style of literature, symbolism in art is related to the gothic component of Romanticism and Impressionism.