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 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 own 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 May 16, 2021, 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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