Symbolism refers to a movement that began in France in the 1880s, as a reaction both to romanticism and to the realistic approach implicit in impressionism. Not so much a style per se, symbolism in art was an international ideological trend that served as a catalyst in the development away from representation in art and toward abstraction.
Inspiration was found initially in the work of the French painters Pierre Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Gustave Moreau, and Odilon Redon, who used brilliant colors and exaggerated expressiveness of line to represent emotionally charged dream visions, often verging on the macabre, inspired by literary, religious, or mythological subjects. Their followers included Vincent van Gogh, renowned for his use of color to express emotions, and Paul Gauguin and Émile Bernard. Gauguin and Bernard, working together between 1888 and 1890 adopted a style that made use of pure, brilliant colors and forms defined by heavy contour lines, resulting in flat, decoratively patterned compositions. This style they dubbed synthetist, or symbolist (using the two terms interchangeably), in opposition to the analytic approach of impressionism.