GUSTAVE MOREAU: THE SYMBOLIST PAINTER OF FRANCE

Aesthetically elevating hedonism, depravity, self-indulgence, and a dangerous femme fatale kind of sensuality, the painting “Salome Dancing before Herod” by Gustave Moreau is celebrated as one of the Hammer Museum's better known paintings and one of Moreau's finest works.

A major figure in French Symbolist painting, Moreau was born on April 6, 1826, in Paris, France, at 6 Rue des Saints-Peres. Son of an architect, Moreau traveled to Italy at the age of 15 and there he began his love for art. At the age of 18, he went on to study art at Ecole des Beaux-Arts under the guidance of François Edouard Picot, which he left in 1850. 

Influenced by the work of Théodore Chassériau, Moreau began to study art under him and participated in the Salon for the first time in 1852. His first painting was a “Pieta” which is now located in the cathedral at Angoulême. In the Salon of 1853, Moreau showed “AScene from the Song of Songs” and “The Death of Darius”, and contributed “Athenians with the Minotaur” and “Muses Putting Off his Sandals within Sight of the Promised Land” to the great exhibition.

In 1864, Moreau exhibited one of his first Symbolist paintings, “Oedipus and the Sphinx”, at the Salon. The painting currently resides in the permanent collection at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. The death of Alexandrine Durex, with whom Moreau had a romantic relationship, affected him greatly and his work after this point contain a more melancholic edge.

During his sojourn in Italy from 1857-1859, Moreau gained inspiration to make art with a style of Italian Renaissance from Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. An example of Moreau's mature style is “Death Offering a Crown the Victor of a Tournament” (1868-70).

Experimenting with different style of art, Moreau developed his personal form of art. Influenced by publications such as The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones, Le costume hisetorique by Augustus Racinet and Le Costume by Frederic Hottenroth, Moreau began to draw not only humans, but animals and architectural monuments. Incorporating exotic images, he developed a style that emphasized mystery and ambiguity.

In October 1891, Moreau became a professor at École des Beaux-Arts. Among his many students were the fauvist painters Henry Matisse and Georges Rouault.

Moreau died of stomach cancer and was buried at the Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris in his parents’ tomb.


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