Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine

The art of Gustave Moreau (1826-1898), the artist who provoked ‘raptures of delight’ in Huysmans’s revolutionary Symbolist novel À Rebours of 1884, has been seldom seen in Australia. Working in partnership with the Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris, the National Gallery of Victoria is delighted to bring to Australia the first exhibition of Moreau’s work to be seen in the southern hemisphere.

Art Exhibition previously on at NGV International in Melbourne precinct, Victoria, Australia.
From Friday 10 December 2010 to Sunday 10 April 2011

The sirens image

Published by National Gallery of Victoria - International on Sunday 05 September 2010.
Contact the publisher.

‘Gustave Moreau was nobody’s pupil. With no real ancestors and no possible descendants, he remained a unique figure in contemporary art … His sad and melancholy works breathed a strange magic, an incantatory charm which stirred you to the depths of your being like the sorcery of certain of Baudelaire’s poems, so that you were left amazed and pensive, disconcerted by this art which crossed the frontiers of painting to borrow from the writer’s art its most subtly evocative suggestions, from the enameller’s art its most wonderfully brilliant effects, from the lapidary’s and etcher’s art its most exquisitely delicate touches’. Joris-Karl Huysmans, À Rebours (Against Nature), 1884

In his youth Gustave Moreau had been obsessed with Italian art of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and with narratives drawn from the classical past. After being stung by criticism of the meticulously drawn treatments of classical antiquity and mythology that he had exhibited in the 1860s, Moreau retreated from public view and spent years pursuing a freer approach to his art, before his triumphant return to the Salon in 1876 with his Salomé. He had now mastered the ability to work quickly with oils to capture his initial thoughts, blocking in the essential elements and tonal values of a composition that would later be precisely fleshed out. It is these semi-abstracted compositions that retain such an enormous appeal and fascination to modern sensibilities.

So too do his astonishingly inventive and richly tinted, jewel-like watercolours, which remain best defined by Huysmans’ baroque description of them in 1884: ‘… never before, in any period, had the art of water-colour produced such brilliant hues; never before had an aquarellist’s wretched chemical pigments been able to make paper sparkle so brightly with precious stones, shine so colourfully with sunlight filtered through stained-glass windows, glitter so splendidly with sumptuous garments, glow so warmly with exquisite flesh-tints’.

Throughout his life Gustave Moreau was entranced by female beauty and captivated by the allure of powerful women from the pages of both history and legend. This exhibition will explore the artist’s fascination with heroines and queens, goddesses and temptresses. Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Messalina, Lady Macbeth, the Shulamite, Delilah, Galatea – all were screens thorough which Moreau could filter his explorations of the key themes of the Eternal Feminine: obsession, dream, luxury, magic, the femme fatale, exoticism, and the ideal.

This focused, yet spectacular exhibition will offer a survey of the many aesthetic faces of Gustave Moreau, from highly finished Salon oil paintings, meticulous presentation drawings and vivid pen and ink sketches, to the stunning opulence of his glowing watercolours and swift painterly oil studies. It will also consider the full range of Moreau’s obsessions with exotic subject matter, from classical antiquity and the ancient Far East, to Christianity’s more lurid escapades and the epic narratives of the Middle Ages

*Quotes from À Rebours are drawn from Robert Baldick’s English translation

Admission fees apply
Adult $15.00
Concession $12.00
Child (5-15 yrs) $7.50
Family (2 Adults + 3 Children) $42.00
NGV Member Adult $7.50
NGV Member Family (2 Adults + 3 Children) $21.00