A cultural movement of the latter 19th century, Symbolism had a deep impact on the visual arts, music and literature of the day. Symbolism was first acknowledged as a literary movement by Jean Moreas but soon its emphasis on the mystical, occult and psychological began to appeal to visual artists. Symbolist artists did not seek to represent an illusion of reality but rather convey a sense of spiritualism and an ideal world beyond the surface of things. Paul Gauguin is the most noteworthy Symbolist artist, representing the story beneath the story with paintings such as Vision after the Sermon: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel. Symbolism chose to downplay reality by simplifying and obscuring images, emphasizing the mystical or at least mysterious. Odilon Redon’s works are some of the most bizarre and luminous examples of this important but often overlooked artistic movement.
Kaplan, Julius. “Symbolism,” in Oxford Art Online.