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The titles of Khnopff's works are intriguing: I Lock the Door Upon Myself (1891), The Caresses of the Sphinx (1896), and Silence (1896), for example. His paintings are asymmetrical, meticulously and purposefully composed, like the work of Burne-Jones. They are moody and enigmatic, thus reflecting the artist's taciturn, introspective temperament.

A celibate, reputedly in love with his sister, Khnopff depicted female figures who either are her, or, perversely, look like her. Among his trademark motifs are the winged head, representing Hypnos, the god of sleep. He is doubtless the model for the artist in Allan Hollinghurst's novel The Folding Star (1994), set in Khnopff's famously melancholy home city of Bruges, which Baudelaire once called "Venice in black."


By 1898 the Symbolist esthetic was all but sidelined by other movements. Critic Octave Mirbeau, in the aftermath of the Wilde scandal of 1895, castigated the Symbolist movement as being only for "snobs, Jews and ." During the late twentieth century, however, Symbolists enjoyed a new popularity. To Phillipe Jullian, they were "the dandies of the soul."

Symbolists shrank from bright lights in order to make the ineffable manifest. In the process, they revealed their homosexual orientation or other minority erotic interest. They tried to make a kind of subtle, ambiguous music for the eye. Although their work varies enormously in quality, it still manages to fascinate and enthrall.

Kieron Devlin

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literature >> Overview:  Aestheticism

A theory of art and an approach to living that influenced many European and American gay male and lesbian writers at the turn of the twentieth century, aestheticism stressed the independence of art from all moral and social conditions and judgments.

literature >> Overview:  Decadence

Nineteenth-century Decadent literature either describes aspects of decadent life and society or reflects the decadent literary aesthetic.

arts >> Overview:  Divas

The diva has traditionally played a significant role in both gay and lesbian culture as an object of cult worship with whom those who suffer the heartaches of forbidden love and ostracism from an unaccepting society find solace and identification.

literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Romanticism

Since homosexuality was severely persecuted during the Romantic period, writers who treated the subject more or less positively were forced to encode it or leave it unpublished and were themselves frequently forced into exile.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Baroque

From about 1590 through the first decades of the eighteenth century, Baroque artists challenged the decorum of Renaissance art; but the period was also a time of intolerance and persecution.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Mannerism

The dominant style of painting, sculpture, and architecture in Europe from around 1520 to about 1600, Mannerism has proven to be a great favorite of glbtq audiences, who developed a camp appreciation for its frequent excesses.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Medieval

Ranging from depictions of acts "against nature" to representations of sexual ambiguity, queer medieval art may be richer than is generally recognized.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Nineteenth Century

Several artists and art critics of the nineteenth century achieved a self-aware homosexual identity that is expressed in both their lives and their works, but lesbianism is only rarely depicted in terms of identity during this period.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Renaissance

The various cultural patterns, especially the conditions of artistic production and the types of subjects and themes represented, provide a great deal of evidence about Renaissance sexuality and art.

arts >> Overview:  Surrealism

An artistic movement that grew out of Dadaism and flourished in Europe shortly after World War I, Surrealism embraced the idea that art was an expression of the subconscious.

arts >> Adrian-Nilsson, Gösta (GAN)

Regarding his sexuality as a fundamental component of his creativity, Swedish painter Gosta Adrian-Nilsson, known as GAN, fostered the development of modernist art in his native country.

arts >> Beardsley, Aubrey

English decadent and Symbolist artist Aubrey Beardsley made a lasting contribution to the art of illustration; a satirist with a gift for caricature and grotesquerie, Beardsley attacked Victorian sexual values.

arts >> Enckell, Magnus Knut

Painter Magnus Knut Enckell, whose works exhibit strong homoerotic overtones, was one of the leading figures in the art circles of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Finland.

literature >> Huysmans, Joris-Karl

J. K. Huysmans, an important figure in the Aesthetic and Decadent movements, exemplified a style of homosexuality at a pivotal moment in the emergence of a gay identity.

literature >> Montesquiou-Fezensac, Count Robert de

Count Robert de Montesquiou was a writer during France's Belle Epoque, but he is best remembered as a dandy and an aesthete, who inspired the literary creations of others.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.


Dorra, Henri, ed. Symbolist Art Theories: A Critical Anthology. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Gibson, Michael. Symbolistes. Michael Gibson, trans. New York: Abrams, 1988.

Jullian, Phillipe. The Symbolists. Mary Anne Stevens, trans. New York: Phaidon, 1973.

Lucie-Smith, Edward. Symbolist Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1972.

Théberge, Pierre, ed. Lost Paradise: Symbolist Europe. Montreal, Canada: Museum of Fine Arts, 1995.


    Citation Information
    Author: Devlin, Kieron  
    Entry Title: Symbolists  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated September 26, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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