Symbolism was part of a 19th-century movement in which art became infused with mysticism. The term Symbolism means the systematic use of symbols or pictorial conventions to express an allegorical meaning. Symbolism is an important element of most religious arts and reading symbols plays a main role in psychoanalysis.

Thus, the Symbolist painters used these symbols from mythology and dream imagery for a visual language of the soul. Symbolist painting emphasized fantasy and imagination in their depiction of objects. The artists of the movement often used metaphors and symbols to suggest a subject and favored mystical and occult themes. Influenced by Romanticism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the movement strived to depict the symbols of ideas.

The Symbolism movement originated in France and spread across Europe. Symbolists were opposed to the visual realism of the Impressionists and serious nature of the Industrial Age. Their aim was to portray mysterious and ambiguous interpretations of emotions and ideas by using unobvious symbols. Not so much a style of art, Symbolism was more an international ideological trend. Symbolists believed that art should apprehend more absolute truths which could only be accessed indirectly. Thus, they painted scenes from nature, human activities, and all other real world phenomena in a highly metaphorical and suggestive manner. They provided particular images or objects with esoteric attractions.


Symbolism in painting had an even larger geographical reach than Symbolism in poetry, reaching artists like Leon Bakst in Russia, as well as Frida Kahlo in Mexico, and Elihu Vedder, and Elle Nicolai in the United States.