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Symbolism was a late 19th-century French literary movement which influenced the visual arts. The literary branch can be traced back to Baudelaire and Rimbaud. The principal philosophy of the movement was that ideas could be expressed symbolically and so a direct or 'objective' transcription of the chosen subject could be replaced with a more subjective interpretation.

In the visual arts Symbolist painters sought to convey ideas or suggest emotions rather than imitate the external forms of nature. In practice the works of Symbolist artists were either religious in a mystical fashion and/or erotic and decadent. Artists associated with Symbolism include Redon, Moreau, Puvis de Chavannes, Hodler and Klimt.