The Symbolist Manifesto
Symbolists believed that art should aim to capture more absolute truths which could only be accessed by indirect methods. Thus, they wrote in a highly metaphorical and suggestive manner, endowing particular images or objects with symbolic meaning. The Symbolist manifesto ("Le Symbolisme", Le Figaro, 18 Sept 1886) was published in 1886 by Jean MorÃ©as. MorÃ©as announced that Symbolism was hostile to "plain meanings, declamations, false sentimentality and matter-of-fact description," and that its goal instead was to "clothe the Ideal in a perceptible form" whose "goal was not in itself, but whose sole purpose was to express the Ideal":
Ainsi, dans cet art, les tableaux de la nature, les actions des humains, tous les phÃ©nomÃ¨nes concrets ne sauraient se manifester eux-mÃªmes ; ce sont lÃ des apparences sensibles destinÃ©es Ã reprÃ©senter leurs affinitÃ©s Ã©sotÃ©riques avec des IdÃ©es primordiales.
(In this art, scenes from nature, human activities, and all other real world phenomena will not be described for their own sake; here, they are perceptible surfaces created to represent their esoteric affinities with the primordial Ideals.)
Symbolism in literature is distinct from Symbolism in art although the two overlapped on a number of points. In painting, Symbolism was a continuation of some mystical tendencies in the Romantic tradition, which included such artists as Caspar David Friedrich, Fernand Khnopff and John Henry Fuseli and it was even more closely aligned with the self-consciously dark and private Decadent Movement.
There were several, rather dissimilar, groups of Symbolist painters and visual artists, among whom Gustave Moreau, Gustav Klimt, Odilon Redon, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Henri Fantin-Latour, Edvard Munch, FÃ©licien Rops, and Jan Toorop were numbered. Symbolism in painting had an even larger geographical reach than Symbolism in poetry, reaching Mikhail Vrubel, Nicholas Roerich, Victor Borisov-Musatov, Martiros Saryan, Mikhail Nesterov, Leon Bakst in Russia, as well as Frida Kahlo in Mexico, Elihu Vedder, Remedios Varo, Morris Graves, David Chetlahe Paladin, and Elle Nicolai in the United States. Auguste Rodin is sometimes considered a Symbolist in sculpture.
The Symbolist painters mined mythology and dream imagery for a visual language of the soul, seeking evocative paintings that brought to mind a static world of silence. The symbols used in Symbolism are not the familiar emblems of mainstream iconography but intensely personal, private, obscure and ambiguous references. More a philosophy than an actual style of art, the Symbolist painters influenced the contemporary Art Nouveau movement and Les Nabis. In their exploration of dreamlike subjects, symbolist painters are found across centuries and cultures, as they are still today; Bernard Delvaille has described RenÃ© Magritte's surrealism as "Symbolism plus Freud".