From the Industrial Revolution to World War I, C. 1850–1914


What is nineteenth-century symbolism?

The nineteenth-century Symbolist Movement began as a literary movement in France. Symbolist artists and writers made works that were inspired by dreams, myths, folklore, and the new psychological concept of the unconscious, as described by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. French poets, including Stéphane Mallarmé, Charles Baudelaire, and Paul Verlaine strived to elevate their work with symbols in an attempt to avoid the limitations of material reality. Gustave Moreau (1826–1898) and Odilon Redon (1840–1916) were French artists who embraced Symbolism, while the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863–1944) is perhaps the most well known Symbolist painter outside of France. Munch’s The Scream, is a swirling depiction of intense emotion. Munch wrote about it in a journal, saying, “I sensed a shriek passing through nature… I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood” (as quoted in Stokstad 1050). Other notable Symbolists include Belgian artist James Ensor, and the American Albert Pinkham Ryder. Many Symbolist paintings are characterized by a dark moods and macabre subject matter.


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