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Land of symbols: Where myth, death, and desire reign

It was in France and Belgium, the cradles of literary Symbolism, that Symbolist painting was born. In the late 19th century, painters such as Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon rejected realism, naturalism, and impressionism to express instead the emotion or idea. In place of Monet's light-suffused landscapes or the frank working-class subjects of Courbet came imaginary dream scenes of psychological, sexual, and mystical content.

This generously sized book explores the Symbolists' rich pool of inspiration as they strove to express such charged experiences as love, fear, anguish, death, sexual awakening, and unrequited desire. Through literature, the Bible, and Greek mythology, we see how the movement's protagonists fused erudite references with personal and private significance in the restless pursuit of a feeling-laden form.

With featured work from Edward Burne-Jones, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Gustav Klimt, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Gustave Moreau, Odilon Redon and many more, the book attests to the favorite motifs as well as the stylistic variety of Symbolist practice. In one work we find muted washes of pastel color, in another ornate textural details. More than once, we encounter the virgin or femme fatale, Symbolism's female archetypes par excellence.

Through this rich, sometimes obscure, but always evocative journey, we come to appreciate an essential 19th-century movement which not only spawned disciples around the world, but also paved the way for some of the leading modernist developments.