Drawing their subject matter from legend, literature and religion the Symbolist artists of the Fin-de-siècle were distinguished by a shared philosophy rather than a common style. Symbolism was an "spiritualist" reaction to the new "materialism" of the West - taking these terms in a generalised sense. Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) was a leading figure of the movement, in France and Belgium, which included artists as diverse as Gustav Moreau, Odilon Redon, Puvis de Chavannes and Ferdinand Khnopff.
- Stars and constellations.
- Christmas Night (The Blessing of the Oxen) is a blend of all of Gauguin's imagery, within a Biblical scenario.
- Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? D'où Venons Nous | Que Sommes Nous | Où Allons Nous.
- Mahana No Atua Day of the Gods (1894). The monumental sculpture is a reconstruction from photographs of carved reliefs adorning the Buddhist temple complex at Borobudur in Java.
- Joyousness Arearea (1892) - In the imaginary scene in the background, there are several women worshipping a statue. Gauguin has enlarged a small Maori statue to the size of a great Buddha, and has invented a sacred rite.
- Parahi Te Marae There Lie The Temple Grounds (Philadelphia Museum of Art). The ornamental fence was inspired by the design of a small Marquesan ear ornament.
- Portrait of the Artist with the Idol (c. 1893).
- The holy cross - The Yellow Christ.
- Totemic animals in a landscape
- Landscape with pig and horse.
- Vision After The Sermon is a key painting in Gauguin's path towards Symbolism: reference the small dancing cow at the top left and out of scale with the rest of the composition.
- "Nevermore" (1897), pays tribute to the famous poem by Edgar Allan Poe that Gauguin had listened at the Café Voltaire, through the inclusion of a raven.
- Floral motifs
- Floral And Vegetable Motifs (1893).
- Nave, Nave Moe (1894).
- Still Life With Teapot And Fruit (1896).
Mythology and Religion:
Allusions to mythology and to alchemy recur within art and painting:
- The Green Lion is a widely used alchemical term - Vera Prima Materia of the philosophers' stone, and represents the living energies in nature.
- The Golden Bough, described by Virgil in the sixth book of the AEneid, grew on a tree in a grove near Lake Avernus. The epic poem was the inspiration for the painting The Golden Bough by J.M.W. Turner.
- In Greek mythology The Golden Fleece is that of a winged ram. Aries, the first of the Zodiac constellations, is a representation of the winged ram.
- The battle shields of the Norman knights have a dragon motif in the Bayeux Tapestry. As King Harold is hit by an arrow, the man in front of him is holding a dragon standard in red, gold and white.
- Aesop Fables. The animals on the borders of the Tapestry have been identified as:
- The fox and the crow
- The wolf and the lamb
- The wolf and the crane
- The wolf and the kid
- The Adoration of the Golden Calf depicts an Old Testament story.
- Colour symbolism can vary dramatically between cultures. The Persians used verdigris in their paintings until the beginning of the 20th century. For Muslims, green is often a holy colour.
- A great number and variety of plant-based motifs and patterns appear in Islamic art across different mediums and historical periods.
- c 1000 A.D. - A dragon appears in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf.
- 18 September 1886 - Jean Moréas declared, in the "Manifesto" which he published in the Figaro, that Symbolism was the only mode of expression "capable of logically conveying the contemporary tendencies of the creative spirit in art."
- 1890 to 1905 - The Celtic knotwork of the Art Nouveau style of the late 19th and early 20th century has an affinity to the works of the Symbolist painters.
- 1922 - Fulcanelli wrote Le Mystère des Cathédrales "The Mystery of the Cathedrals" in Paris. It was published in 1926.
- 1939 - Discovery of Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon burial site. The priceless treasures incorporated animal figures:
- The curved patterns of serpents and other mythological beasts.