• gerard van weyenbergh

Gustave Moreau, his art + video (182 works)

In short

He is the prince of French Symbolist painters and an unclassifiable artist oscillating between eclecticism and modernity. With Gustave Moreau (1826–1898), myths are never simple, mixing biblical and pagan references, classical imagination, and exotic inspiration. Doubtless, one can qualify it as mystical and strange. Moreau was a great idealist, renewing the concept of ideal beauty by associating it with the image of the femme fatale. The surrealists will adore the artist cultivating the mystery in painting while some of his paintings border on abstraction.

He said

“I love my art so much that I will only be happy when I do it for myself alone. "

His life

Gustave Moreau, son of an architect, was born in Paris and received a good classical education. In 1844, he entered the studio of the neoclassical painter François Édouard Picot, then at the École des Beaux-arts. He failed twice at the Prix de Rome, in 1848 and 1849. Moreau then left the institution and, temporarily, the dream of an academic career.

Installed in the artists' quarter, that of Pigalle, Moreau befriended Théodore Chassériau. The era is orientalism and fashion to Eugène Delacroix , whom Moreau admires. The painter exhibited for the first time at the Salon in 1852.

In 1857, Moreau left for Italy. He discovers the great Italian masters who fascinate him, particularly Michelangelo, from whom he copies the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. In Rome, he also attended the Villa Medici as a free student, perfecting his technique. There he befriended Edgar Degas . Venice and the decorations particularly mark him. His trip will have lasted two years.

Success came to Moreau in 1864, when he exhibited at the Salon Oedipus and the Sphinx, acquired by Napoleon III. He obtained certain privileges, such as the title of Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1875. The Universal Exhibition of 1878 assured him a triumph. Ten years later, he is elected to the Academy of Fine Arts.

As André Breton will say, Moreau knew how to revive ancient and biblical mythology. With him, everything is nested in detail and in an abundant imagination. From the Venetian painters, he borrows precious colors. The medieval era amazes him, as do the discoveries made by archaeologists in the Middle East. These eclectic passions are transcribed in his works, which mix pagan and biblical myths in complex and fantastic architectures, often disturbing.

In 1892, Gustave Moreau became a professor at the École des Beaux-arts. Moreau's teaching is highly regarded and differentiates itself from its counterparts. He encourages his students to develop their own style, to assert their talent. His students will be none other than Georges Rouault, Henri Matisse or Albert Marquet .

After his death in 1895, his family house located 14 rue de la Rochefoucauld, in the 9 th arrondissement in Paris, becomes a museum. 1,300 paintings, watercolors and cartoons are presented in a unique atmosphere.

His key works


art expert

Gustave Moreau, Oedipus and the Sphinx , 1864

Coll. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Noticed at the Salon of 1864, this painting represents the myth of Oedipus having to respond to the enigma of the Sphinx which will allow him to deliver the city of Thebes and fulfill its fatal destiny. It is a breathless face-to-face between the creature and the young man, imbued with great psychological tension. Moreau here fully shows his mastery of classical codes, and his knowledge of the great masters, without enrolling in academic school. He appears as an atypical artist at a time when realism and naturalism triumph, and renews a subject masterfully treated by Ingres in 1808.

art expert

Gustave Moreau, The Apparition , 1875

Coll. Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Gustave Moreau stages the theme of the femme fatale, through the figure of Salomé borrowed from the Bible. The latter bewitched Herod Antipas with her dance, leading him to death. Moreau does not hesitate to mix multiple references: the decapitated head evokes religious iconography, but the atmosphere of the decor is more like the oriental palace, between fantasy and medieval universe. This work was greatly appreciated by the French writer and art critic Joris-Karl Huysmans , who quotes it in his novel À rebours (1884).

art expert

Gustave Moreau, Jupiter and Sémélé , 1895

Coll. Gustave Moreau museum, Paris

This work is considered to be the artist's pictorial testament. It represents the death of Semele, consumed by the appearance of Jupiter, with whom she conceived Dionysus. It is, therefore, a painting that deals together with love and death. Moreau lets freely speak his taste for mysticism in a universe heavily loaded with symbols and decorations of fantastic and exotic inspiration. 182 paintings by Gustave Moreau video

© Claire Maingon for Beaux Arts.