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Gustave Moreau


Gustave Moreau (1826–1898) was interested by mythological and mystical subjects, and in legends and stories, which he put to his own artistic purposes. His extensive Symbolist output inspired many artists of later generations, including Surrealists.

Moreau, son of successful architect Louis-Jean Marie Moreau, trained at the École des Beaux-Arts under François-Edouard Picot, and his early works were indebted to Eugène Delacroix and Théodore Chassériau. In 1857 Moreau travelled to Italy to study the Old Masters in Rome, Florence and Venice. His first major work was Oedipus and the Sphinx (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), which won a medal at the Salon of 1864 and established his reputation.

During the 1870s he explored the theme of the femme fatale in his Salome paintings and began to experiment with technique, working in a variety of media. His fame grew when J.-K. Huysmans described his work at length in his decadent novel A Rebours (Against Nature) of 1884.

Moreau’s Symbolism originated in the Platonic teachings of the French philosophers Victor Cousin and Théodore Jouffroy. His sources were extremely diverse, ranging from Greek, Indian and Egyptian myth to biblical history and the occult. Although his work was admired by the younger symbolists, he refused to exhibit at the Salon de la Rose + Croix. In 1895 he turned his Paris house, including the library and studio props, as well as letters, sketchbooks and works of art, into a museum.