Obelisk Art History
The Artists

Gustave Moreau
A hermit explores the dreamscape

Gustave Moreau, The Artists
Portrait of Gustave Moreau

“One thing is uppermost for me, an impulse and ardor of the strongest kind toward abstraction. The expression of human feelings, of the passions of man, interests me very much indeed, but I am less inclined to express these movements of the soul and spirit than to render visible, so to speak, the flashes of imagination that one doesn't know how to situate, that something divine in their seeming insignificance and that, translated by the marvelous effects of pure plasticity, open magical horizons that I would even call sublime.”

Gustave Moreau worked alone, illustrating a quiet world of seraphim and brooding women. Through heavily textured canvases and surreal scenes, Moreau attempted to capture what he called le rêve fixée, “the fixed dream,” a hypnotic state where a person is “rapt in sleep and borne toward other worlds than ours.”

Moreau’s work was alien in his time. Though he lived in France during the rise of Impressionism and worked alongside Gustave Courbet and Édward Manet Moreau was more influenced by Michelangelo and Da Vinci. His images were neither realistic nor impressionist. Moreau was a melancholy romantic, and his haunting artworks were considered naive, melodramatic and childish. His student, Edgar Degas, mocked his attempts at rendering the angelic saying “He would have us believe that the gods wear watch chains.”

So what do you think? Was Gustave Moreau an overly-precious, irrelevant artist, or an influential seeker of the sublime?

Reed Enger, "Gustave Moreau, A hermit explores the dreamscape," in Obelisk Art History, Published May 09, 2016; last modified November 06, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/gustave-moreau/.

Gustave Moreau was a French artist born on April 6, 1826. Moreau contributed to the Symbolist movement and died on April 18, 1898.

Oedipus and the Sphinx, Gustave Moreau

Oedipus and the Sphinx 1864

Venus Rising from the Sea, Gustave Moreau

Venus Rising from the Sea 1866

The Voices, Gustave Moreau

The Voices 1867

The Muses Leaving Their Father Apollo, Gustave Moreau

The Muses Leaving Their Father Apollo 1868

Hesiod and the Muses, Gustave Moreau

Hesiod and the Muses 1870

Pietà, Gustave Moreau

Pietà 1876

Jacob and the Angel, Gustave Moreau

Jacob and the Angel 1878

Phaethon, Gustave Moreau

Phaethon 1878

Galatée, Gustave Moreau

Galatée 1880

Leda and the Swan, Gustave Moreau

Leda and the Swan 1882

The Sacred Elephant (Péri), Gustave Moreau

The Sacred Elephant (Péri) 1882

The Chimaeras, Gustave Moreau

The Chimaeras 1884

Voices Of Evening, Gustave Moreau

Voices Of Evening 1885

Saint George and the Dragon, Gustave Moreau

Saint George and the Dragon 1889 – 1890

La Fiancee de la Nuit, Gustave Moreau

La Fiancee de la Nuit 1892

Song of Songs, Gustave Moreau

Song of Songs 1893

Jupiter and Semele, Gustave Moreau

Jupiter and Semele 1894 – 1895

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