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Symbolism initially developed as a French literary movement in the 1880s, gaining popular credence with the publication in 1886 of Jean Moreas' manifesto in Le Figaro. Reacting against the rationalism and materialism that had come to dominate Western European culture, Moreas proclaimed the validity of pure subjectivity and the expression of an idea over a realistic description of the natural world. This philosophy, which would incorporate the poet Stephane Mallarme's conviction that reality was best expressed through poetry because it paralleled nature rather than replicating it, became a central tenet of the movement. In Mallarme's words, "To name an object is to suppress three-quarters of the enjoyment to be found in the poem... suggestion, that is the dream.
Though it began as a literary concept, Symbolism was soon identified with the artwork of a younger generation of painters who were similarly rejecting the conventions of Naturalism. Symbolist painters believed that art should reflect an emotion or idea rather than represent the natural world in the objective, quasi-scientific manner embodied by Realism and Impressionism. Returning to the personal expressivity advocated by theRomantics earlier in the nineteenth century, they felt that the symbolic value or meaning of a work of art stemmed from the recreation of emotional experiences in the viewer through color, line, and composition. In painting, Symbolism represents a synthesis of form and feeling, of reality and the artist's inner subjectivity.