Gustave Moreau (1826 - 1898)
In pictorial art Gustave Moreau is equivalent to Charles
Beaudelaire, whose strange and fascinating poems strike much the same note as
the tortured, subtilised, morbid but mysterious and captivating creations of
Moreau. Every one of his works stands in need of a commentary, and bears witness
to a profound and peculiar activity of mind.
He "gives ear to dying strains, rising
faintly, inaudible to the majority of men. Marvelous beings pass before him,
fantastic and yet earnest". . . . "An age which went wild over Cabanel and
Bouguereau could not possibly be in sympathy with him" ... and "it is only since
the mysterious smile of Leonardo's women has once more drawn the world beneath
its spell that the spirit of Moreau in art has become a familiar thing."
Born in Paris in 1825, this strange artist early fell under the influence of
Delacroix and his own friend, Chasseriau. Pursuing his studies in Rome, he
imitated such painters as Montegna and Signorelli. He exhibited little, and did
not become known until toward the end of his life. The only modern painters with
whom he can be compared are Burne-Jones and Puvis de Chavannes.
In most of his work a complete absence of motion has, says Richard Muther,
"taken the place of the striding legs, the attitudes of the fencing-master, the
arms everlastingly raised to heaven, and the passionately distorted faces which
had reigned in French painting since David. He makes spiritual expression his
starting point, and not scenic effect. Everything bears the seal of supernatural
peace; everything is inspired by inward life and suppressed passion. Even when
the gods fight there are no mighty gestures; with a mere frown they can shake
the earth like Zeus."
Before the discovery of the famous Cyprus statues no artist would have ventured
to adorn a Grecian goddess with flowers, hairpins and a heavy tiara. Attracted
to these discoveries, Moreau has been governed by strangely exotic inspirations.
He is said to have worked in his studio "as in a tower opulent with ivory and
jewels." He delights in arraying his figures in the most costly materials, as
the Cyprus discoveries give him warrant for doing, in painting their robes in
the deepest hues, and lavishly adorning their arms and breasts. "Every figure of
his is a glittering idol. .. . The capricious generation of the Renaissance
occasionally treated classical subjects in this manner, but there is the same
difference between Filippino Lippi and Gustave Moreau as there is between
Botticelli and Burne-Jones : the former, like Shakespeare in
the Midsummer Night's Dream, transformed the antique into a blithe and fantastic
world, whereas the fire of yearning romance burns in the pictures of Moreau."
His "Orpheus" is one of his most characteristic and strangely attractive
creations, just as those dealing with Salome, in their bizarre
sentiment—suggestive of an opium dream—are perhaps his most imaginative.
When Moreau died in 1898, he left his eight thousand pictures in water-color and
in oil to his native city of Paris to form the Musee Moreau in the Rue de la
Rochefoucauld. The most notable of his paintings are "Jason," "Death of the
Young Man," "Prometheus," "Hesiod and the Muses," "The Sphinx," and "The Vision
of Salome," in the Luxembourg. From 1892 to 1898 he was professor in the Ecole
des Beaux-Arts. At the age of forty-nine he received the Cross of the Legion of