A User’s Guide to Published Books About Symbolist Art


‘Dreamers of Decadence’, (Symbolist Painters of the 1890s). Author: Phillippe Jullian

An evocative, mood laiden and sometimes poetic tour through the years of the ‘fin de siècle’. As well as the learned content, the writing and presentation aptly convey an experience of the rich, dark, other-worldliness of the ‘decadent’ symbolist imagination.
Praeger Publishers 1971. Translated from the original French.

‘Passionate Discontent’, (Creativity, Gender, and French Symbolist Art). Author: Patricia Mathews
The University of Chicago Press. 1999

‘Symbolism’. Author: Michael Gibson

A popular large size publication which is an excellent introduction to Symbolism, as well as being an asset to the collection of the established enthusiast. Richly illustrated and clearly written.
Taschen, Big Series Art. 1997, 1999, 2006

‘Symbolist Art’. Author: Edward Lucie-Smith

Written with a balance of thorough art-historical detail and interesting, clear descriptions of the subject matter. This relatively small volume is packed with information and with imagery that includes plenty of coloured reproductions. The development of Symbolism in art is traced from its Romantic precursor, through the Pre-Raphaelites, into the fin de siècle, and on to the early Picasso.
Thames and Hudson. 1972, reprinted 1997. From the ‘World of Art’ series.

‘Symbolist Art Theories’ (A Critical Anthology). Author: Henri Dorra

An anthology of texts – articles, reviews, personal correspondence, taken from painters and sculptors, poets and critics, architects and designers, which run in tandem with the author’s learned commentaries. This is a book for the serious student of art history, and for the general reader who already has an interest in the Symbolist movement and who wishes to pursue that in a fuller and more expansive art historical context. With a prologue of ‘Baudelaire, Delacroix, and the Premises of Symbolist Aesthetics’, the book journeys through ‘Romantic Symbolists’, ‘Decorative Arts and Architecture’, ‘Literary Symbolism’, ‘The Post Impressionists’, ‘The Artists of the Soul’, and to the Epilogue ‘Formalist Criticism and the Harbingers of Surrealism’.
University of California Press. 1994

‘Symbolists and Symbolism’. Author: Robert L. Delevoy

An excellent and extremely erudite account of the subject. As with ‘Dreamers of Decadence’, the heady mood is often evoked, and much symbolist poetry is interspersed amongst a mass of images, many of which are in colour. This is a learned and often dense work. One for the seriously interested and not for the faint hearted! Nevertheless great care has been taken to navigate the reader. There is an extremely useful index/dictionary that provides condensed biographies of many of the artists. There is also much qualifying detail given in the list of illustrations. A large size book.
Macmillan London. 1982. Translated from the French.