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Artists Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau Photo

Gustave Moreau

French Painter

Movement: Symbolism

Born: April 6, 1826 - Paris, France

Died: April 18, 1898 - Paris, France

Gustave Moreau Timeline

Quotes

"I have never looked for dream in reality or reality in dream. I have allowed my imagination free play, and I have not been led astray by it."
Gustave Moreau
"I am dominated by one thing, an irresistible, burning attraction towards the abstract."
Gustave Moreau
"The expression of human feelings and the passions of man certainly interest me deeply, but I am less concerned with expressing the motions of the soul and mind than to render visible, so to speak, the inner flashes of intuition which have something divine in their apparent insignificance and reveal magic, even divine horizons, when they are transposed into the marvellous effects of pure plastic art."
Gustave Moreau
"No one could have less faith in the absolute and definitive importance of the work created by man, because I believe that this world is nothing but a dream..."
Gustave Moreau
"I love all ecstasies, all aspirations, all humanity's needs. Everything that makes me believe that man suffers and that in this vague suffering of the soul he seeks to raise himself up, delights and moves me. Religion, poetry, art in all its forms, prayer, meditation, love; all the varied forms of ideal love and the needs of the suffering soul."
Gustave Moreau
"The career of painter is a true Priesthood"
Gustave Moreau

"I believe neither in what I touch nor what I see. I only believe in what I do not see, and solely in what I feel."

Gustave Moreau Signature

Synopsis

Gustave Moreau's visionary paintings speak to an obsession with the otherworldly, the macabre, and the life of the imagination which resonates across the recent centuries, making him one of the most fascinating of 19th-century painters for modern audiences. Guided partly by his unusual religious faith - which has been called Neo-Platonist, stressing the imperfection and impermanence of the physical world -Moreau set about capturing the products of his imagination on canvas with photographic accuracy. He believed that by so doing, he was allowing divine vision to speak through his brush. Moreau's paintings, normally depicting moments from biblical or mythic narratives, are populated with ambiguous visual symbols - which he took to represent certain desires and emotions in abstract forms - with divine and mortal beings locked in conflict, and with strange visions of sex and suffering. His art predicts not only subsequent movements such as Symbolism (of which he was a forerunner) and Surrealism, but also the peculiar concerns of our own era, seen to have given free rein to the darkest and most submerged impulses of the human mind.

Key Ideas

By emphasising the importance of imagination to artistic creation, Moreau set himself against the two dominant currents in French painting when he began working in the 1850s: on the one hand, the Realism of Gustave Courbet, which stressed the depiction of real people and subject matter, and on the other, Naturalism, whose concern with capturing precisely what the eye saw culminated in the formal innovations of Impressionism.
Many of Moreau's paintings show Christian symbols and figures interacting with Classical and other pagan elements. In so doing, they express a synthetic - or syncretic - religious imagination which would be common to much art of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, and which also predicts the many cults and new-age religions that follow.
Moreau's paintings frequently depict two figures locking eyes, their faces and gazes mirroring one another. Often, these forms represent divine and earthly passion in conflict, and are presented as male and female respectively. This technique of mirroring two faces has been seen to predict early-20th-century psychoanalysis in stressing the duality of the human mind: the idea that multiple characters and impulses, some visible, some invisible, might inhabit the same body.
Moreau's interest in depicting femme fatale women and physically delicate, androgynous seeming men, was echoed in fin-de-siècle and Decadent aesthetics - we can see Moreau-type figures, for example, in the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley - and in some ways resembles the unpicking of male and female archetypes in our own era.

Biography

Gustave Moreau Photo

Childhood

Gustave Moreau was born in Paris to a wealthy middle-class family in 1826. His father, an architect, ensured that Moreau received an education in the classics, while his mother, a talented musician, doted on him due to his poor health as a child. She later recalled that he drew incessantly from the age of 8. When he was 13, his sister Camille died, and Moreau was taken out of school because of illness. When he was 15, he visited Italy and quickly developed a keen interest in art, particularly that of Greco-Roman and Byzantine antiquity and the early Italian Renaissance. Later, at around the age of 18, he studied with François-Edouard Pico, the Neoclassical painter, and prepared for the entrance exam to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

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Gustave Moreau Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Gustave Moreau
Interactive chart with Gustave Moreau's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

François-Édouard Pico
Jean-Auguste-Dominique IngresJean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
Eugène DelacroixEugène Delacroix
Nicolas PoussinNicolas Poussin

Personal Contacts

Théodore Chassériau

Movements

SymbolismSymbolism
The Pre-RaphaelitesThe Pre-Raphaelites
RomanticismRomanticism
NeoclassicismNeoclassicism
RenaissanceRenaissance

Influences on Artist
Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau
Years Worked: 1851 - 1898
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Odilon RedonOdilon Redon
Fernand Khnopff
Salvador DalíSalvador Dalí
André BretonAndré Breton

Personal Contacts

Edgar DegasEdgar Degas
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Georges Roualt
Georges Desvallières
René Piot

Movements

SymbolismSymbolism
Decadent MovementDecadent Movement
Aesthetic ArtAesthetic Art
FauvismFauvism
SurrealismSurrealism

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Anna Souter

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Greg Thomas

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Anna Souter
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Greg Thomas
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