Gustave Moreau

Paris 1826 - Paris 1898


SEE ALSO    Symbolism    Nabis    Fauvism    Rose+Croix


"The French equivalent of the English Pre-Raphaelities"4 Written of by JK Huysmans and Jean Lorrain, who maintained a cult for him.

Earliest work shows influence of Delacroix. Pupil of Chasseriau; Moreau dedicated to him Jeune Homme et la Mort at the 1856 Salon.

Later, Theosophy had a great influence on his ability to reconcile dreams or desire for truth. Auguste Comet's positivism takes a religious turn. With atheist parents, Moreau hought of himself as an impartial interpreter of the history of religions. Prometheus with face of Christ. Grew towards Catholicism. In love with Leda and the Swan theme. Symbolic Incarnation.3

'Imaginative Reason.' Redon imaginative with insufficient reason. M said of Redon, "I see good and gentle people like M. Redon, who is sincere a man and in whom there is certainly the development of a brain that is by no means commonplace, and yet what a sad result!" Chasse on M: "His intermediary position between rationalism and mysticism is best shown by the fact that during the last years of his life he seemed to the public to be abandoning himself completely to the Dream - he declared himself absolutely opposed to Peladan and the Rosicrucians." M said of Sar Peladan, "Would he not have liked to see me as the magus of a new ideal, proclaiming the Gospel like a fairground barker, helmeted and in shinning armor."

M on M: "My greatest effort, my sole care, my constant concern is to drive this team to the best of my ability so that it keeps step with my unrestrained imagination and my mind that is critical to the point of obsession."

His students include Rouault, Matisse, Desuallieres, and Evenepoel.

Belgian painter Henri Evenepoel left a vivid account of Moreau and his studio in letters home to Brussels. He compared M to Leon Bonnat, one of the most successful Salon painters and a teacher at Ecole de Beaux-Artes. Bonnat put in 20-30 minutes a week there. See M's schedule below. Rouault said M was the first to arrive and last to leave. Originality lay in belief that “all students of painting had a duty to discover their own artistic personality rather than to follow blindly rules and precepts laid down by tradition.” Rouault said, “constant respect for our little personalities.”


The great quality of Gustave Moreau was that he considered that the minds of young students would develop continuously throughout their lives and so he did not push them to satisfy the different scholastic tests which, even when artists have succeeded in the greatest competitions, leave them, around thirty, with warped minds, and an extremely limited sensibility and means.

Quotes from Moreau

You must think color, have imagination with it. If you have no imagination you’ll never paint beautiful color. You must copy nature with imagination – that is what makes an artist. Color must be thought, dreamt, imagined.

Oh noble poetry of living and impassioned silence! How admirable is that art which, under a material envelope, mirror of physical beauty, reflects also the movements of the soul, of divine necessities felt by humanity throughout the ages. It is the language of God!

“…Moreau’s principle that new art needs as its foundation a solid knowledge of the old masters.”1



Meets Chasseriau and becomes his pupil. Chasseriau was the pupil of the Neo-Classicist Ingres, although Moreau revered Ingres his entire life. C’s taste for “spangled, jewelled colour had a great influence on the formation of M’s style.”


Discovered at the Universal Exhibition.


Dedicates Jeune Homme et la Mort to Chasseriau at the Salon.Visits Italy (for four years?). Likes the Primitive painters, archaic vases and early mosaics and Abyzantine enamels.


At the official Salon Moreau makes first real impact with Oedipus. Reputation for being eccentric and odd.


His works at the Salon attacked by the critics, M tends to withdraw from official art after this


Represented at the Salon


Given the Legion of Honour.


Represented at the Salon.


His last Salon, attracted the attention of Huysmans.


Given the croix de l’officier


Mentioned in Huysmans’ novel A Rebours


Member of the Institute


Made chef d’atelier, a professor with his own studio at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Taught at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts starting Jan 1, 1892. At that point he was only known to a small audience of critics and collectors. Last show at the Salon – 1880. The Musee du Luxembourg (contemporary art) owned only one of his paintings and a very few had been reproduced. The school was immediately pleased with his students. In 1895,  Henri Matisse, Albert Marquet and Henri Manguin joined his class. (see Fauvism) Camoin came later. Also taught Rouault. His class consisted of 50 students.

Reputation as the most liberal and dedicated member of the teaching staff. Twice a week he had the same routine:

7 - 8 AM - Corrected students drawings in the Antique Galleries in the Louvre
8-10 AM - Corrected their paintings in the studio
After lunch he returned to the Louvre





1)    Fauvism, Sarah Whitfield, Thames & Hudson, London, 1991.
2)    Symbolist Art, Edward Lucie-Smith, Thames & Hudson, London 1972.
3)    The Nabis and their period. Charles Chasse’. Translated by Michael Bullock 1969. Lund Humphries, London. First published French 1960.
4)    Praeger Encyclopedia of Art Luc-Reinhardt. Praeger Publishers, 1971.