"To clothe the idea in perceptible form" proposed the poet Jean Moreas in his I886 Manifesto of Symbolism. It was in France and Belgium, the cradles of literary Symbolism, that Symbolist painting was born. It plunged headlong into the cultural space opened up by the poetry of Baudelaire and Mallarme and by the operas of Wagner. Symbolist painters sought not to represent appearances but to express "the Idea", and the imaginary therefore plays an important part in their work. "Dream" was their credo; they execrated, with a fanatical hatred, impressionism, realism, naturalism, and the scientistic. The main principle of Symbolism, that of "correspondences", was to attain harmony between all the different arts, or even to realise the total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk) that Wagner had dreamt of creating. What we rediscover today, after a period of neglect, is this: Symbolist painting is essential to our understanding of modern art, not only because it spread across the world like wildfire, creating disciples from Russia to the United States, from Northern Europe to the Mediterranean, but because it was the source of a series of mutations without which modern art would not be what it is. Symbolism underlies Expressionism: we know how much the leaders of Die Brucke or the members of Der Blaue Reiter owe to Ensor, Munch, Hodler, Vallotton, Klimt and Spilliaert. The Fauves owed a similar debt, not only to Gauguin, but to Serusier as well. Italian Futurism bears clear marks of Symbolist influence. One of the earliest influences on Marcel Duchamp, who revolutionised modern art, was Redon. Bocklin's example was essential to the dreamladen painting contrived by de Chirico, and in de Chirico the Surrealists detected a paradigm of what they expected of painting and had already found in certain of the leading lights of Symbolism. We may even speak of hyperrealist Symbolism in the mid-19th century work of the Pre-Raphaelites, who placed at the service of their lofty goals a technique of almost photographic realism; like Dali and the American Hyperrealist, they made colour photographs in oil on a large scale, portraying Ophelia, Christ, Merlin the wizard or simply their own fantasies. Finally, the evolution from Symbolism to Abstraction is particulary notable, given that it occurred under the aegies of painters of Symbolist extraction whose names are now at the heart for modern art: Kandinsky, Malevich, and Mondrian. There are thus few if any movements in 20th century art whose roots do not lie in Symbolism, while a rediscovery of Symbolist works makes it clear how many contemporary artists are in direct line of descent from the Symbolist movement.Michael Francis Gibson is the author of 'Symbolism (Big Series Art)', published 1999 under ISBN 9783822870303 and ISBN 3822870307.