The term was coined by critic Edmund Gosse in an 1876 article in Art Journal titled The New Sculpture in which he identified this new trend in sculpture. Its distinguishing qualities were a new dynamism and energy as well as physical realism, mythological or exotic subject matter and use of symbolism, as opposed to prevailing style of frozen neoclassicism. It can be considered part of symbolism.
The keynote work was seen by Gosse as Lord Fredrick Leighton’s Athlete Wrestling with a Python, but the key artist was Sir Alfred Gilbert followed by Sir George Frampton. An Important precursor was Michelangelesque work of Alfred Stevens.