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Art History

Gustave Moreau: biography

Gustave Moreau was born in Paris on 6 April 1826, son of the architect Louis Moreau and his wife née Pauline Desmoutiers, a wealthy bourgeois couple. His parents encouraged Gustave to study art and so, in October 1846 he was admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts at the studio of Picot, a neoclassical artist. Moreau’s debut was not particularly brilliant: in 1849 he was seventeenth in the first test for the Prix de Rome. After he completed his studies – and thanks to his father’s connections he obtained a commission to paint a copy of Annibale Caracci’s Virgin of the Cherries (1849-1850). In 1851 the panel of the Salon accepted one of his paintings, a large Pietà and rejected four others, including Darius after the Battle of Arbela, that was shown at the 1853 Salon after it was retouched. At the Universal Exposition of 1855 he showed the Athenians Being Delivered to the Minotaur in the Cretan Labyrinth, that the government had commissioned for the museum of Bourg-en-Bresse. That same year he sent four genre paintings to the exhibition of the Amis des Arts in Bordeaux. In 1857 Moreau decided to take a study-trip to Italy during which he became friendly with Degas and Elie Delaunay. After his return to Paris in November 1859 he resumed working and in 1862 painted the Via Crucis for the church of Notre-Dame de Deeazeville. In 1864 he showed a painting at the Salon that earned him general admiration and a medal: Oedipus and the Sphinx which was immediately purchased by prince Napoleon. In 1866 his Orpheus was acquired by the Musée de Luxembourg, while Diomedes Devoured by his Horses was bought by the Société des Amis des Arts of Rouen only in 1869. The two paintings he showed at the 1869 Salon, Prometheus and Jupiter and Europa did not meet with great success. At the beginning of the eighth decade, following the political upheavals in France, Moreau retired from public life, but in 1874 Philippe Chennevières invited him to work on the decorations of the Pantheon, and then, in 1875 he was given the Legion d’honneur. When he presented his new paintings in 1876 they once again aroused great clamor, especially The Dance of Salome. Encouraged by success he participated in the 1878 Universal Exposition with several paintings. Starting in 1879 Antoni Roux commissioned him to do a series of watercolors illustrating La Fontaine’s Fables. In 1888 he was elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts and three years later became professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1895 he decided to establish a museum that would house in works, and according to the terms of the will he drew up in 1897, it was left to the government. Gustave Moreau died on 18 April 1898. The Musée Gustave Moreau was opened to the public in 1903.

The works