Symbolism in art is a powerful movement that emerged in the late 19th century, influencing artists across various mediums and leaving an unforgettable mark on the art world. This intriguing and enigmatic movement is characterized by its use of symbols and metaphors to convey deeper, often hidden, meanings. In this article, we will explore the history, themes, famous artists, and the influence of Symbolism on the art world.

A Glimpse into History

Symbolism as an art movement began in the 1880s as a reaction against the constraints of academic art and the shallow realism that dominated the era. This movement was a bridge between Romanticism and the burgeoning Modernist movement and aimed to represent emotional and spiritual states through symbols and metaphors.

Themes and Subjects

  1. The Sublime and Supernatural: Symbolist artists often explored themes of mysticism, the occult, and the supernatural. Gustave Moreau's "The Apparition" is a prime example, featuring an otherworldly and ethereal female figure.
The Apparition by Gustave Moreau, 1876. watercolor. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

  1. Dreams and the Unconscious: Dreams, fantasies, and the workings of the human psyche were central themes. The works of Odilon Redon, like "The Eye, Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity," exemplify this.
The Eye, Like a Strange Balloon Moves Towards Infinity, plate one from To Edgar Poe by Odilon Redon

  1. Femme Fatale: The Symbolist movement frequently depicted the femme fatale, a seductive and mysterious woman who could be both alluring and dangerous. Fernand Khnopff's "The Caress" captures this theme.
Caress of the Sphinx by Fernand Khnopff 1896

  1. Nature and Transformation: Nature was a common source of inspiration, often depicted in a mystical or transformed state. Ferdinand Hodler's "The Truth" showcases this aspect.
The truth, 1903 - Ferdinand Hodler
The truth by Ferdinand Hodler

The Most Expensive Artwork Sold

Figure on cliffside walkway holding head with hands
Edvard Munch, 1893, The Scream, oil, tempera and pastel on cardboard, 91 x 73 cm, National Gallery of Norway

In the world of Symbolist art, "The Scream" by Edvard Munch is one of the most iconic and expensive pieces ever sold. Although not strictly a Symbolist work, it shares some thematic elements, and one version of the painting was sold for a staggering $119.9 million in 2013 at Sotheby's .

Famous Artists

  1. Gustave Moreau: Known as one of the movement's pioneers, his works are characterized by their meticulous detail and rich symbolism.
  2. Odilon Redon: Redon's dreamlike and imaginative works, often centered on fantastical creatures and the mysteries of the unconscious, have left an enduring legacy.
  3. Fernand Khnopff: Famous for his exploration of the femme fatale archetype, his paintings are notable for their haunting, enigmatic quality.

Fun Facts about Symbolism

  • Gothic Influences: Many Symbolist artists drew inspiration from Gothic literature and architecture, giving their works a mysterious and otherworldly quality.
  • J.K. Rowling Connection: The famous author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, has cited Symbolism as an influence on her work, particularly in the portrayal of dementors, which are akin to the symbolist concept of a soulless and fear-inducing presence.

Influence on the Art World

Symbolism, as a precursor to the Modernist movement, challenged the conventions of the time and opened the door for more abstract and conceptual art forms. It marked a shift towards a deeper exploration of the human psyche and emotions, setting the stage for subsequent art movements like Surrealism.

Symbolism in art is a captivating movement that continues to inspire and intrigue artists and art enthusiasts to this day. Its influence can be seen in various art forms, including literature, film, and even in the digital realm of NFTs. As the art world continues to evolve, the enigmatic and symbolic nature of this movement remains a timeless source of inspiration and contemplation for both creators and collectors.

Exploring Symbolism on Exchange Art:

1.Yugami by deojahnu

The archetype of the femme fatale, a seductive and often dangerous woman, is a recurring theme in Symbolism. Mythological figures and narratives are also prevalent, adding layers of meaning to the artwork like in this one called Yugami.

Yugami by deojahnu

2.Cirkus #8 - Doing Just Fine by Wiwi Taek

This composition is filled with hidden symbols. This could be associated with existential questions, such as the nature of identity, consciousness, and the search for meaning in a seemingly complex and arbitrary world.

Cirkus #8 - Doing Just Fine
Cirkus #8 - Doing Just Fine by Wiwi Taek

3.Fire Brush by Panduma
The head made of a Rubik's Cube might symbolize the idea of how we perceive and understand the world is a matter of shifting perspectives and changing mental configurations. It could represent the fluid nature of human perception.

Fire Brush
Fire Brush by Panduma


Symbolism in art is a fascinating and complex genre that invites viewers to explore the depths of human experience and emotion through the use of symbols, metaphors, and hidden narratives. It has had a profound impact on the evolution of art and continues to captivate audiences with its enigmatic and thought-provoking works.


5.Coming Out Of The Dark by Olik

Symbolist artists aim to convey deep emotional and spiritual states. Olik use symbolic two faced portrait, and a restricted dark colors palette to create a sense of introspection.

Coming Out Of The Dark
Coming Out Of The Dark by Olik


Many Symbolism artworks delve into the human psyche, exploring dreams, fantasies, and the unconscious mind. This can result in dreamlike, surreal, and fantastical imagery. SSY give us such example of artwork that include various symbols such as fish, mask, the forbidden fruit.


7.The Fool by Joyhog
Mystical and occult themes are common in Symbolism art. Artist draw inspiration from esoteric and spiritual sources. In this case, The artist Joyhog drew The fool of Major Arcana.

The Fool
The Fool by Joyhog
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