Gustave Moreau: The Bridge to Modern Painting

Evidence suggests that Gustave Moreau forged the link between traditional practices of paining and new experimental ideas that transformed painting in the 20th century.

Gustave Moreau (6 April 1826 - 18 April 1898) is regarded as a French Symbolist painter known for large allegorical paintings in which romantic realism is juxtaposed with extravagant detail, that André Breton regarded the precursors of Surrealism.

Starting as early as 1855, as if carried on the wave of emotion in paint of Eugène Delacroix (much as his own students carried forward his experiments), Moreau began to make loosly representational paintings with thick, freely brushed colors giving precedence to expressive painterly qulities over lines and contours in works that could have been exhibited with the first of the impressionists, or decades later with the Abstract Expressionists.
“It is in the lesser known and often unfinished paintings that Moreau the painterly painter, the uniquely experimental dreamer must be sought and understoood.”[1]

Although not publicly exhibited Moreau's "private" experiments with painting were known to some of the most influential artists of the time. A professor at Paris' École des Beaux-Arts starting in 1891, Moreau's paintings such as Cavalier. (c.1855) stoked the fires of fauvism in his students, Roualt and Matisse. “As a student and intimate friend of Moreau, and first curator of the Moreau Museum, Roualt was familar with the vast secret oeuvre that Moreau had never publicly exhibited.” [2]

Around 1890 Moreau started to produce abstract works. “If Moreau had painted only the jewel-laden compositions for which he was admired during his lifetime, he probably would have occupied merely a niche reserved for illistrators in the history of art. But he has done more: not only was he the teacher of Matisse and Roualt, a circumstance which has kept his name alive while his own work remained in shadow, he even ventured with considerable boldness into a type of "abstraction" far more radical than anything that was being done in his day.”[3]

“The mystery of Gustave Moreau is that he pursued not one but many painting ideals, that he followed his imagination determinedly until it brought him to strange junctures that must have startled and baffled even his own lucid intelligence.”[4]

Moreau steeped himself in traditional painting practices, and honed his craft, but he saw painting and the role of the artist in more philiosophical and complex terms, and while participating in the Academic Salons he believed that "traditional" forms of painting, were insufficient. His conception of the artist as a visionary lent him a profoundly Moodernist self-consciousness that led to his experiments with painting that draw attention to his processes and materials (and to his further tendency of abstraction). [5] In the precincts of his studio Gustave Moreau experimented with radically unorthodox techniques. To his young student Henri Evenepoel he explained that to paint well was not enough.[6]

In his will Moreau requested that the state "keep as long as possible this collection, conserving its character as an ensemble which shows the sum of work and the effort of the artist during his life." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Test_Site_by_Carsten_H%C3%B6ller.jpg

Gustave Moreau: Abstract_Study - Watercolor with_pencil_drawing-31x19.5cm - Gustave_Moreau_Museum - Paris Gustave Moreau
Abstract Study
Watercolor with pencil drawing, 31 x 19.5cm, Gustave Moreau Museum Paris
Gustave Moreau: Horizontal Vibration, 1961 Gustave Moreau
Battle of the Centaurs, c. 1890
Watercolor, 15 x 28 cm, Gustave Moreau Museum
Gustave Moreau: Kiss, 1961 Gustave Moreau
Near The Water, undated
Watercolor, 10 5/8 x 14 9/16 in., Musee Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau: Blaze 1, 1962 Gustave Moreau
Cavalier, c. 1855
Oil on canvas, Museum Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau: Fall, 1963 Gustave Moreau
Circe
Oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 15 1/4 in., Gustave Moreau Museum
Gustave Moreau: Descending, 1965 Gustave Moreau
Delilah
Oil on canvas, 12 1/8 x 15 3/4 in., Musee Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau: Arrest 1, 1965 Gustave Moreau
Ganymede
Watercolor, 9 3/4 x 13 3/4 in., Musee Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau: Breathe, 1966 Gustave Moreau
Salome Dancing Before Herod, c. 1875
Oil and distemper on parqueted wood, 93 x 61 cm, Museum Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau: Cataract 3, 1967 Gustave Moreau
One of the Parcae and the Angel of Death, 1890
Oil on canvas, 110 x 67 cm, Museum Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau: Orient 4, 1970 Gustave Moreau
Orpheus at the Tomb of Eurydice, 1891
Oil on canvas, 68 1/2 x 50 3/8 in., Gustave Moreau Museum
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
Phoebus and Boreas, c. 1879
Watercolor and gouache, Gustave Moreau Museum
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
Shepherds Viewing Passing Soldiers
Oil, 60 x 85 cm
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
Sketch A, 1890
Oil on wood, 8 5/8 x 10 5/8 in.
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
Sketch C
Oil on canvas, 10 5/8 x 8 in.
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
Sketch D - 1880-1890
Oil on cardboard, 18 1/2 x 12 1/2 in., Museum Gustave Moreau
 

“Moreau was a fervent dissenter from all conventional views of painting. He told Roualt that painting could never go back to other centuries.”[7]

 
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
Sketch E
Oil on wood, 12 5/8 x 9 7/8 in., Gustave Moreau Museum, Paris
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
St. Cecilia, c. 1885
Oil on canvas, 33 7/8 x 26 3/4 in., Gustave Moreau Museum
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
Study (probably for The Chimeras), 1884
Watercolor, 12 1/2 x 9 in., Museum Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
Study B (for Jupiter and Semele), c. 1889
Oil on cardboard, 41 x 33 cm, Gustave Moreau Museum
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
Study of Helen, c. 1890
Oil, Gustave Moreau Museum
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
The Apparition
Oil on canvas mounted on wood, 12 5/8 x 9 7/8 in., Gustave Moreau Museum
 

Born in the Romantic period, Moreau's restless mind confronted the problems raised by the new aesthetic and, in a sense, carried them to their logical conclusions far in advance of his contemporaries. His inexplicable "abstractions" are as much a reflection of the questions posed by the Romantic generation as are his theatrical presentations of myth and legend. His technical experiments, "discovered" by abstract expressionist artists who find his textures, hectic linear interlaces and strange concordances of color so close to their own, grew as much from Romantic theory milled in his peculiar imagination as did the few large, obsessively detailed "finished" paintings publicly exhibited.[8]

 
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
The Chimeras (Satanic Decameron), 1884
Oil on canvas, 92 7/8 x 80 1/4 in., Museum Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
The Chimeras (detail)
Oil on canvas, Museum Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
The Death of Inspiration, c. 1895-97
Watercolor, 15 x 9 3/4 in., Museum Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
Woman Bathing, c. 1890
Watercolor and gouache, Gustave Moreau Museum
Gustave Moreau: Gustave Moreau
The Temptation of St. Anthony, c. 1890
Watercolor with gouache highlights, 13 1/2 x 24 cm, Gustave Moreau Museum, Paris

During his lifetime, Moreau produced more than 8,000 paintings, watercolors and drawings, many of which are on display in Paris' Musee national Gustave Moreau at 14 rue de la Rochefoucauld (IXe arrondissement). The museum is in his former studio, and began operation in 1903.

References
  1. Ashton, Dore (1961). Odilon Redon, Gustave Moreau [and] Rodolphe Bresdin, p. 109. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago. LCCN 61-17804.
  2. Ashton, Dore (1961). REDON | MOREAU | BRESDIN, p. 109. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. LCCN 61-17804.
  3. Rewald, John (1961). REDON | MOREAU | BRESDIN, p. 7. The Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York, N.Y. Distributed by Doubleday [1961]. LCCN 61-17804.
  4. Ashton, Dore (1961). Odilon Redon, Gustave Moreau [and] Rodolphe Bresdin, p. 109. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago. LCCN 61-17804.
  5. "Modernism": Gardner, Helen, Horst De la Croix, Richard G. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick. Gardner's Art Through the Ages (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991). ISBN 0-15-503770-6. p. 953.
  6. Ashton, Dore (1961). REDON | MOREAU | BRESDIN, p. 109. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. LCCN 61-17804.
  7. Ashton, Dore (1961). Odilon Redon, Gustave Moreau [and] Rodolphe Bresdin, p. 109. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago. LCCN 61-17804.
  8. Ashton, Dore (1961). REDON | MOREAU | BRESDIN, p. 109. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, N.Y. Distributed by Doubleday [1961]. LCCN 61-17804.
Related Information:
Gustave Moreau Museum - Musée national Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) French Symbolist - Boston College Digital Archive of Art



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