We explain what the symbolism was and what its general characteristics are. In addition, its representatives and examples of this movement.

What is Symbolism?

Symbolism  was one of the most important literary and artistic movements that originated in France in 1886. It used the use of symbols (signs that were related to the abstract) to represent emotions and an overflowing imagination. The movement regarded the world as a mystery and art as a dream.

The symbolism stood out for the poetic content that pursued the inner search for universal truths , from spirituality, imagination and dreams. It was opposed to the movements of naturalism and realism that showed everyday reality in an exacerbated way.

Characteristics of symbolism

Symbolism is a movement that reacts against the values of industrial society materialism , seeks universal truth, and pursues a more spiritual inner quest.

It refers to  the independence of art in relation to other areas of life and attempts to express the anguish and deepest feeling of the artist. It seeks to play with the viewer's perception , imagination and unreality, which causes a strong attraction.

The literature of symbolism expresses ideas with sensible stories and metaphysical intentions . It uses symbolic resources, such as synesthesia (the variation of human perception) in which a color can refer to an aroma or a musical lyric.

The art of symbolism represents the opposite of realism and each symbol it uses has its own concretion by the artist and a subjective vision of the viewer, that is, it does not have a single interpretation and stands out for its content rather than its technique or style.

Literary representatives of symbolism

Among the literary representatives of symbolism , the French poet Charles Baudelaire stands out, considered the most influential writer. His works were classified as dark and immoral, for recounting themes of drug use , sexuality, and Satanism. Several of his works were even banned.

Symbolist literary works did not achieve great recognition throughout history , although they marked the way towards the future literary avant-garde. Among the most representative poets are the Count of Lautréamont, Stéphane Mallarmé, Juan Moréas, Arthur Rimbaud, Albert Samain and Germain Marie Nouveau.

The influence of symbolism in Hispanic literature was reflected in the works of authors such as:

  • Manuel Gutierrez Najera ( Mexico )
  • Leopoldo Lugones ( Argentina )
  • Julian del Casal (Cuba)
  • Ruben Dario ( Nicaragua )
  • Jose Maria Eguren ( Peru )
  • Salvador Diaz Miron ( Uruguay )
  • Jose Asuncion Silva (Colombia)

Artistic representatives of symbolism

Among the artistic representatives of symbolism that influenced later movements such as art nouveau or surrealism, the following stand out:

  • The sculptor Auguste Rodin (France)
  • The painter Aristide Maillol (France)
  • The sculptor Émile Antoine Bourdelle (France)
  • The painter Juan Delville (Belgium)
  • The painter Gustav Klimt (Austria)
  • The sculptor Adolf von Hildebrand ( Germany )
  • The sculptor Medardo Rosso ( Italy )
  • The painter Gaetano Previati (Italy)
  • The painter Félix Vallotton (Switzerland)

Examples of symbols

The movement uses a symbolic content to communicate emotions and abstract realities , in addition to the use of irrational, fantastic and subjective representations. Some examples of the symbols and their meaning are:

  • The figure of the woman.  It represented the abstract, complex and taboo.
  • lilies.  They represented the delicate or melancholy.
  • Swans.  They represented purity.
  • Peacocks.  They represented beauty and vanity.
  • Scenery.  They represented loneliness.

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring to reliable sources and recommendations from technology experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


MA student of the TransAtlantic Masters program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Political Science with a focus on European Studies. Expressed ideas are open to revision. He not only covers Technical articles but also has skills in the fields of SEO, graphics, web development and coding. .

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