Guide Tour of Gustave-Moreau Museum, Paris, France

The Gustave-Moreau Museum is a national museum located at 14, rue Catherine de La Rochefoucauld, in Paris 9th, dedicated to the works of Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau. The museum keeps a total of around 14,000 works. Most of his studio collection is exhibited there, nearly 850 of his paintings or cartoons, 350 of his watercolours, more than 13,000 drawings and tracings, 15 wax sculptures.

The museum was originally Moreau’s dwelling, transformed by his 1895 decision into a studio and museum of his work with his apartment remaining on the first floor, bequeathed by the artist to the French State in 1897 for that his work be preserved and presented there. Today the museum contains Moreau’s drawings, paintings, watercolors, and sculptures.

The building has three floors. Of the six small rooms on the ground floor overlooking a garden, four rooms are filled with drawings and sketches, one of which is devoted to the masters of Italy. The apartment on the first floor recalls by its rooms (a dining room, a bedroom, a boudoir and a hallway, as well as an office-library) that it was the dwelling place of the Moreau family. The second floor has a large room-workshop and the third floor two small rooms that exhibit larger formats.

Among the works exhibited are his Jupiter and Semele (1895), the Chimeras (1884), the Return of the Argonauts (1891-1897). There are also some works by other artists: a Portrait of Gustave Moreau by Edgar Degas, another by Gustave Ricard, a Portrait of Pauline Moreau by Jules-Elie Delaunay, a Still life by the Flemish painter Jan Fit.

After restoration, the painter’s apartment was opened to the public in 1991, and his reception room, restored in 2003, can also be visited. The museum was renovated and reopened in 2015 after a year of work which notably saw the return of the ground floor to its original state, the creation of reserves and a graphic art cabinet. In 2017, the museum is part of a national public establishment of an administrative nature placed, dedicated to the national museums Jean-Jacques Henner and Gustave Moreau.

Gustave Moreau was a French artist and an important figure in the Symbolist movement. He was an influential forerunner of symbolism in the visual arts in the 1860s, and at the height of the symbolist movement in the 1890s, he was among the most significant painters. He was a prolific artist who produced over 15,000 paintings, watercolors, and drawings. Moreau painted allegories and traditional biblical and mythological subjects favored by the fine art academies.

Gustave Moreau is one of the main representatives in painting of the Symbolist movement, imbued with mysticism. His style is characterized by his taste for ornamental detail, imbued with antique and exotic motifs. Academic, romantic, Italianate: Gustave Moreau could only have been an eclectic, like so many of his successful colleagues, borrowing from each other the constituent elements of an impersonal style. By the very choice of his subjects, Moreau wants to abstract himself from the data of reality, of experience. Deeply religious spirit, without being practicing, he considers that painting, mirror of physical beauties, also reflects the great impulses of the soul, the spirit, the heart and the imagination and responds to these divine needs of the human being of all times.

Gustave Moreau has given new freshness to dreary old subjects by a talent both subtle and ample: he has taken myths worn out by the repetitions of centuries and expressed them in a language that is persuasive and lofty, mysterious and new. The female characters from the bible and mythology that he so frequently depicted came to be regarded by many as the archetypical symbolist woman. His art (and symbolism in general) fell from favor and received little attention in the early 20th century but, beginning in the 1960s and 70s, he has come to be considered among the most paramount of symbolist painters.

Moreau started his career drawing classical art, but by incorporating exotic images he developed a mysterious and unique form of art. Gustave Moreau’s education in classical drawing did not stop him from experimenting with different styles of art. By traveling to other countries such as Italy or Holland and reading publications Moreau was able to develop his unique form of art. All these influences led Moreau to draw not only humans, but animals and architectural monuments.

Gustave Moreau borrows heavily from the masters of the Renaissance, introduces decorative ornaments to the point of saturating the canvas and also incorporated exotic and oriental motifs into his pictorial compositions, which he later reworked and sometimes enlarged. When he painted for himself and not for the Salons, Moreau could have a very different style, which contrasts with his more polished Salon paintings. In 1870, his painting Naissance de Vénus announces his sketches, some of which made from 1875 are close to what will be abstract painting

Although Moreau refused any theoretical discourse as we have seen above in connection with sculpture, he had for himself two guiding principles of his art: the beautiful inertia and the necessary richness. These principles were defined by Moreau himself and are known to us through Ary Renan. The beautiful inertia is the representation of the decisive moment from the moral point of view rather than the pathetic moment from the scenic point of view. It is therefore the thought rather than the action that he paints.

From a stylistic point of view, Moreau’s drawing is neo-classical. It is characterized by the search for the beautiful arabesque subject to precise canons, which we find among artists of the first half of the nineteenth century who went through the School of Fine Arts. From his formative years, he will keep a drawing method that is close to that of David, Ingres or Chassériau who introduced him to the technique of drawn portraits. Moreau is also inspired by nature, hence the numerous studies of animals, made on the spot, or sketches from nature.

He uses graphite pencil – or lead pencil – black pencil, charcoal and, especially before 1860, red chalk. He also practices pen and ink drawing. He is finally a fan of tracing paper, which allows him to transfer his drawings to the final cardboard with the dimensions of the final painting.

With watercolour, the artist translates his variations, his confidences as an artist, his intimate audacity that he did not dare to reveal to the public. Moreau was sometimes aware that he was obtaining in this technique, though reputed to be minor, results sought in vain in more elaborate paintings: “It is curious that this little watercolor of today has shown me in an admirable way that I do not only do it when I’m working on crazy things”. While the majority of paintings require a more or less scholarly explanation to understand their meaning, the watercolors above all offer their colorful beauty to the gaze that contemplates them.

The importance of the graphic work kept at the Gustave Moreau Museum testifies to Gustave Moreau’s passion for drawing and the essential role that it plays in the development of a painting: from the first draft to the final adjustments by through layers and squaring.

The museum
It was in the private mansion at 34, rue de La Rochefoucauld, that Gustave Moreau’s master, François-Édouard Picot, had set up his studio, in the heart of New Athens, where all writers and artists wanted to reside, on the bottom of the southern flank of the Montmartre hill. It was in this artistic district that Gustave’s parents bought in their son’s name, in 1852, a house-workshop at 14, rue de La Rochefoucauld, where the entire Moreau family settled.

In April 1895, Moreau asked the architect Albert Lafon to transform the family home into a museum. The apartments on the first floor are laid out like a small sentimental museum where family portraits and works donated by his friends Théodore Chassériau, Eugène Fromentin and Edgar Degas are hung. The second and third floors become large glazed workshops to the north, designed to provide as much space as possible. A majestic spiral staircase connects them. Several hundred paintings and watercolors as well as thousands of drawings can then be exhibited.

In his will of September 10, 1897, Gustave Moreau entrusted his old friend Henri Rupp with completing his project. He died on April 18, 1898. Henri Rupp then worked, after the completion of the interminable inventory after death, to hang the works according to the artist’s wishes. The bequest was accepted by the State in 1902. The Gustave Moreau Museum opened its doors in 1903. Its museography has remained unchanged since.

The juxtaposition of works from different periods of Moreau’s career is characteristic of the ground floor of the museum. It was fitted out by Henri Rupp, according to the directives of Gustave Moreau who had perhaps himself begun this work before death surprised him on April 18, 1898. Six rooms (rooms A to F) house more than 400 paintings, hundreds of drawings and a unique collection of watercolors by the master.

In fact, in what was once a dining room with fireplace (room C), two cupboards house 677 drawings, mostly copies made in Italy from the Masters. But the most dazzling remains the presentation of large-format watercolors set, like jewels, with gilded frames like those of the paintings Narcissus (Cat. 575) or Ulysses and the Sirens (Cat. 584).

In the following rooms (Rooms D to F), works by Moreau from all periods have been brought together, ranging from Shakespearean-inspired paintings such as Lady Macbeth (Cat. 634) to the most innovative works such as a little Bathsheba (Cat. 725). Secret cupboards arranged in the thickness of the walls containing pivoting frames contain, sometimes more than 2 meters high, drawings and paintings.

First floor
Gustave Moreau planned to keep the rooms on the first floor where he had lived happily with his parents as a “small museum”. It is a real development symbolically orchestrated by the artist around his memories and those of loved ones, rather than the apartment as Gustave Moreau’s parents occupied. The layout is made for eternity and not for everyday life.

The furniture and memories were then arranged in the remaining rooms, the dining room, the living room which became a bedroom, even though Moreau lived rather in his studio, and Gustave Moreau’s former bedroom became a boudoir devoted to the memories of Alexandrine Dureux, the friend, who died too soon, whose furniture he had bought.

Follow the hallway, enter Gustave Moreau’s apartment through a corridor decorated with photographs, engravings, drawings and watercolors. These works relate, for the most part, to artists who are friends or admired: Théodore Chassériau, Eugène Fromentin, Narcisse Berchère or Edward Coley Burne-Jones…

In the bedroom, former living room of Pauline Moreau, the painter’s mother, brings together family memories. Moreau didn’t hesitate to pile up the furniture he holds dear, placing side by side the desks that were in his mother’s room and in his own. Grouped on the walls are family portraits painted, drawn or photographed. A portrait of Gustave Moreau by Edgar Degas, a portrait of Pauline Moreau by Elie Delaunay, as well as a Portrait of Moreau by Gustave Ricard(1864). An oak display case where he arranged himself, in the last days of his life, precious memories, miniatures, photographs in a real genealogical tree of the family and relatives: his sister Camille, with the portrait drawn that still a child he made her, but also the faithful Henri Rupp as well as Alexandrine Dureux.

In the dining room, with its water-green woodwork matching the Louis XVI style chairs by Alexandre Fourdinois bought in 1852, is decorated with photographic reproductions of works by Gustave Moreau, sold long before, as well as engravings by other artists..

The ceramics of the credenza are particularly sumptuous: around a beautiful fountain from Moustiers, a round dish from Urbino from the 16th century (or from Faenza, if we are to believe the artist) and dishes and cups by Bernard Palissy and his followers. This collection, very characteristic of the end of the Restoration or the Second Empire, had undoubtedly already been put together by his father, Louis Moreau, but the subjects of the historiated dishes, such as the sumptuousness of the blue and green enamels, are not unrelated. with the colors of Moreau.

The boudoir made by Alexandre Fourdinois, belonged to Alexandrine Dureux (born in Guise on November 8, 1835, died in Paris on March 28, 1890). It is from his collection that the many works of Gustave Moreau hung on the walls also come, such as Cavalier Renaissance and Le Bon Samaritain or even Pasiphaé. This development is also the work of Gustave Moreau who devoted his last strength to it. Everything has been preserved or restored identically.

The curiosity cabinet is a modern cabinet of curiosities, this room brings together rare books and precious or unusual objects inherited or carefully collected by Moreau throughout his life. A showcase with brass doors houses a remarkable collection of antiquities that belonged to Louis Moreau, the artist’s father. Among the ceramics, dating mainly from the 5th and 6th centuries BC. BC and coming largely from Italy, stand out two magnificent craters of imposing dimensions found in the tomb of an Apulian princess. To these old objects are added small replicas in plaster or bronze after famous sculptures and reproductions of intaglios which the painter often used for his compositions.

In the libraries are kept 16th and 17th century editions of the most famous architectural treatises (Vitruvius, Serlio, Philibert Delorme, Vignole etc.) once acquired by Moreau’s father, who was an architect. Note also the large illustrated folio volumes and a beautiful 1836 edition of Flaxman’s work, which was an important source of inspiration for the artist.

Gustave Moreau wanted to bring together in this room thought as a place of memory, the most beautiful studies after the old masters, carried out at the Louvre and during his trip to Italy (1857-1859). In this case, it is possible to admire the famous copy after Raphael’s Putto (Inv. 13610), produced at the Academy of Saint Luke in Rome, a magnificent replica, executed in Florence, of the painted Angel by Leonardo da Vinci in The Baptism of Christ by Verrocchio (Inv. 13611), and some episodes, copied in Venice, from The Story of Saint Ursulaof Carpaccio (Inv. 13612, 13623, 13633). Studies in oils and watercolors after Pompeian paintings kept in Naples show the painter’s interest in antiquity, while views of Rome and its surroundings reveal, in an unexpected way, his remarkable qualities as a landscaper and watercolourist.

Second floor
On the second floor, begins the workshop specially designed by the architect Albert Lafon at the request of Gustave Moreau in 1895 in order to hang large canvases there.

Tyrtée chantant pendant le combat and Les Pretendants, begun very early, were enlarged at the end of 1882, at a time when the painter was thinking of organizing a major exhibition – posthumous? – of his work. As for the Return of the Argonauts, whose composition was planned before 1885, it was painted around 1891, then enlarged after the construction of the large workshops and resumed in 1897. For this large painting, many drawings and a wax model of the boat loaded with “all the chimeras of youth”. “And yet everything is rhythmic in this symbolic and allegorical group of youth, because nothing must come to destroy or attenuate this impression of happiness which can only be conveyed by a set of softened lines, sinuous and of an unstable and harmonious harmony. striking “. With The Daughters of Thespius, one cannot help but think of The Turkish Bath, Ingres’ late masterpiece, before this belated glorification of youth by the aging artist.

Alongside paintings that are the result of work constantly resumed, there are others executed quickly and not resumed, such as Les Chimères, which he would have completed in four months (he left it largely in the state of drawing on canvas) or Moses saved from the waters, in flamboyant reds and blacks, painted around 1893.

Third floor
The first room of the large studio on the third floor is dominated by Jupiter and Semele, made in 1895 for Léopold Goldschmidt and donated by him to the museum in 1903. Fascinating work, also enlarged, with its dazzling colors, blue, red or green of enamel that make one think of the ceramics of Bernard Palissy of the parents of Gustave Moreau, it sums up the multiple influences of the artist. We can compare this masterpiece with the sketch dated 1889 or with the second version, probably made around 1894-95 for the future museum, simpler and more monumental. From multiple sources, Gustave Moreau personalizes the myth of Jupiter superb, radiant and beardless like Apollo.

In the second room are: The Abduction of Europe and Prometheus, but also the enigmatic Unicorns painted around 1888. Two compositions on the theme of Salome are among the most famous works in the museum, dancing Salome known as “tattooed” because decorative graphics as printed on the body of the biblical dancer and The Apparition, a striking image of the persistence of thought beyond physical death. The poet, the civilizing hero is present in a thousand ways in Gustave Moreau’s painting. The central figure of the polyptych of The Life of Humanitydated 1886, is Orpheus charming the animals, between the biblical cycles of Adam and Cain, under a bezel representing a bloody Christ. As for Orpheus on the tomb of Eurydice, it clearly has an autobiographical resonance, since it was painted around 1891, after the death in 1890 of his friend Alexandrine Dureux. Nature is in unison with mourning, the sun goes down on the horizon, the trees are an autumnal red, the one on which Orpheus is leaning is broken.

Friends of the Gustave-Moreau Museum
The association Les Amis du musée Gustave-Moreau, founded in 1990 on the initiative of Antoinette Seillière, aims to conserve, restore and enhance the museum ‘s collections and promote the work of the museum.