Symbolism in German-speaking regions
Symbolism, which came up in the German speaking countries as of the middle of the 19th century, was coined by the awareness that traditional values, religion and science were in question, just as a whole new world explanation was developing. Darwin's theory of evolution, secularization and also industrialization had fundamental effects on people's lifes. The desire for a new philosophy of life was getting stronger. These changes were affecting all of Europe, however, the German speaking countries were affected the most, as industrialization occurred a little later but stronger. In this context Symbolism was an attempt to sort of "re-enchant" the world.
An active artistic exchange, by means of many important exhibitions, such as the Edvard Munch exhibition in Berlin in 1892, is characteristic for the German language region. This tendency culminated in the formation of various Secessions, e.g. in Munich (1892), Vienna (1897) and Berlin (1899), whereas it is important to mention that Symbolism, Art Nouveau and Secession Art in Austria and Germany cannot clearly be separated. The constant exchange of ideas between the art centers enabled artists to work in the Catholic state of Bavaria as well as in protestant Prussia, as religion in Germany was not as strictly separated as it was the case with Belgium and the Netherlands.
The journeys the artists went on were not just restricted to the art metropolises, but also comprised "destinations of longing", which were mostly in Italy. For instance Hans von Marées (1837-87), who had studied in Berlin and Max Klinger (1857-1920) from Leipzig, went to Italy where they met Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901).
A clear reference figure of Böcklin's art in Italy was the southern light and ancient mythology, this atmosphere can be observed in all his works, which are characterized by a magic ambience of a calmness timelessness that call reminiscence of dreams inhibited by mythological figures. Böcklin's "Die Toteninsel" (Island of the Dead) was made for a girl, who had explicitly asked him for a dream picture.
Max Klinger admired the art of Böcklin, but also developed a very personal style that was strongly influenced by Goya. He also worked up ideas from literature and philosophy, creating numerous complex works with a great sense for the problems of his time. Existential life and death questions, social criticism and political satire are important constants in his works.
The art of Franz von Stuck (1863-1928), one of the Munich "Künstlerfürsten" (Prince of Art), was influenced by Böcklin. Representative portraits and allegories with fantastic mythical creatures as well as sensual female nudes are among his favored topics.
The Bern native Ferdinand Hodler is the most important Swiss representative of Symbolism. His landscapes and allegories are modeled after the principles of Parallelism, in which certain elements are repeatedly used in similar ways. This way Ferdinand Hodler attained to express his concept of the unity of nature. His works had a strong influence on contemporary art, as well as on Austrian art although in alleviated form. Allegories of a similar concept can also be found in the art of the Vienna Secession around Gustav Klimt and even in the work of the Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele.