Gustav Klimt, Odilon Redon, Fernand Khnopff, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Mikhail Vrubel, Fernand Cormon

10 Art Painters in the Symbolism Era (c. 1880 - c. 1910)

The Symbolism Era, spanning roughly from 1880 to 1910, was a fascinating period in art history characterized by a departure from realism and a turn towards the exploration of deeper emotions, dreams, and the subconscious. Symbolist painters sought to convey meaning through symbols and metaphors, often using rich, imaginative imagery to evoke mysterious and otherworldly atmospheres. In this article, we will delve into the lives, styles, and notable works of 10 prominent painters from the Symbolism Era.

1. Gustav Klimt (1862 - 1918)

Gustav Klimt, an Austrian painter, was a central figure in the Symbolist movement. His ornate and intricate style was often characterized by the use of gold leaf and complex patterns.

Famous Paintings:

  • "The Kiss" (1907-1908): A stunning portrayal of an embracing couple enclosed in a mosaic-like environment, symbolizing love and unity.
  • "The Tree of Life" (1905-1911): A mesmerizing blend of symbolism and allegory, depicting intertwined figures against a golden backdrop, reflecting themes of interconnectedness and regeneration.

2. Odilon Redon (1840 - 1916)

French artist Odilon Redon is renowned for his ethereal and imaginative works that often blur the line between reality and fantasy.

Famous Paintings:

  • "The Cyclops" (c. 1914): The painting depicts the myth of Polyphemus, the one-eyed Cyclops, in love with the Nereid Galatea, as he spies on her while she sleeps behind a tall mountain.
  • "Guardian Spirit of the Water" (1887): Combining human and animal characteristics, conveys a feeling of both protection and uncertainty. The artwork is renowned for its dreamy and mystical attributes.

3. Fernand Khnopff (1858 - 1921)

Belgian painter Fernand Khnopff was known for his enigmatic and dreamlike compositions.

Famous Paintings:

  • "The Caresses" (1896): Haunting portrayal of a woman with flowing hair and a mask-like face, capturing a sense of ambiguity and emotional depth.
  • "I Lock My Door Upon Myself" (1891): Features a female figure turning her back to the viewer and holding a key, inviting interpretation regarding identity and isolation.

4. Edvard Munch (1863 - 1944)

Edvard Munch, a Norwegian artist, is celebrated for his emotionally charged paintings that often explore themes of anxiety, love, and death.

Famous Paintings:

  • "The Scream" (1893): One of his most recognizable works, portraying a figure on a bridge amidst a surreal, swirling landscape, expressing existential angst.
  • "Madonna" (1894-1895): Strikingly modern interpretation of the Virgin Mary, blending religious symbolism with a distinctive Symbolist touch.

5. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824 - 1898)

A precursor to Symbolism, French painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes created murals and paintings that combined mythological themes with allegorical imagery.

Famous Paintings:

  • "The Poor Fisherman" (1881): Poignant work portraying a fisherman with his family against a dreamy seascape, symbolizing the dignity of labor and the simple joys of life.
  • "The Sacred Grove" (1884): Depicts a group of women in a sacred grove, evoking a sense of reverence and mysticism.

6. Arnold Böcklin (1827 - 1901)

A Swiss symbolist painter known for his evocative and imaginative works, his art style can be characterized as Symbolism with elements of Romanticism and Classicism.

Famous Paintings:

  • "Isle of the Dead" (1880): One of Böcklin's most famous works, depicting a small rocky island with a cypress tree standing tall in the center, the painting is shrouded in an eerie, dreamlike atmosphere and has been interpreted as a symbol of mortality and the afterlife.
  • "Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle" (1872): In this intriguing self-portrait, Böcklin portrays himself as a young man playing a violin while a spectral figure, personifying death, plays a fiddle, characteristic of Böcklin's symbolist style.

7. Gustave Moreau (1826 - 1898)

A prominent French symbolist painter, known for his highly detailed and imaginative works, Moreau was a key figure in the Symbolist movement, blending mythological and fantastical themes in his art.

Famous Paintings:

  • "Jupiter and Semele" (c. 1895): a stunning example of Moreau's symbolic and mythological style, depicting the god Jupiter visiting the mortal Semele, who later becomes the mother of Dionysus.
  • "The Apparition" (c. 1876): a haunting and enigmatic painting that showcases Moreau's fascination with the mystical and otherworldly. It portrays a female figure in a state of trance, surrounded by ghostly and surreal creatures.

8. Hugo Simberg (1873 - 1917)

Hugo Simberg is a Finnish symbolist painter known for his distinctive blend of symbolism and realism, often portraying mystical and otherworldly themes in his works.

Famous Paintings:

  • "The Wounded Angel" (1903): Depicts a wounded angel, with bandaged eyes, carried on a stretcher by two somberly dressed boys.
  • "The Garden of Death" (1896): Portrayal of a skeletal figures, reminiscent of the classic black-clad Grim Reapers, but paradoxically are tending to gardens, symbolizing birth or renewal.

9. Carlos Schwabe (1866 - 1926)

Schwabe was a Swiss-born Symbolist painter known for his mystical and allegorical artworks.

Famous Paintings:

  • "The Death of the Gravedigger" (1895): This haunting painting depicts a gravedigger being visited by Death herself, symbolizing the inevitability of mortality and the transition to the afterlife.
  • "La Vague" (Wave) (1906): It is a captivating piece featuring a mystical, dreamlike female figure riding a turbulent wave, embodying the Symbolist style's ethereal and symbolic qualities.

10. Félicien Rops (1833 - 1898)

As a Belgian symbolist painter and graphic artist known for his provocative and often erotic works, Rops is associated with the Symbolist and Decadent movements, and his art frequently explored themes of sensuality and the darker aspects of human nature.

Famous Paintings:

  • "Satan Sowing Tares" (1882): Satan sows tares in a city, while standing over the city. Tares are harmful weeds, especially in biblical use.
  • "Pornocrates" (1878): Also known as "The Lady with the Pig," this controversial work depicts a striking and provocative scene, showing the excesses of modern city life, pushing the boundaries of societal norms.


The Symbolism Era brought forth a diverse array of painters who delved into the depths of the subconscious, using rich symbolism and imaginative imagery to explore the complexities of human emotions and the mysteries of existence. Each artist left an indelible mark on the art world, contributing to a period of profound introspection and creative exploration.


Shop with us

Back to blog