Gustave Moreau

Arcadian Dreams Articles

Jupiter and Semele
Oedipus and the Sphinx

Selected Works

1850 Self Portrait, Paris, Musée Gustave Moreau

1852 The Suitors, Paris, Musée Gustave Moreau

1852 The Song of Songs, Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts

1864 Oedipus and the Sphinx, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

1865 Orpheus, Louvre, Paris

1867 The Voices, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

1876 The Apparition , Paris, Musée d’Orsay

1876 Salome Dancing before Herod, Los Angeles, Armand Hammer Museum of Art

1876 Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra, Chicago, Art Institute

1876 Salome at the Prison, Tokyo, National Museum of Western Art

c1876 Pietà, Tokyo, National Museum of Western Art

c1882 Pèri (The Sacred Elephant, the Sacred Lake), Tokyo, National Museum of Western Art

1885 The Triumph of Alexander the Great, Paris, Musée Gustave Moreau

1896 Jupiter and Semele, Paris, Musée Gustave Moreau

Born in Paris 6 April 1826, he was an inspirational and influential teacher as well as a highly original painter. He was initial influenced Delacroix. In 1857 he began a two years of study in Italy, travelling to Rome, Venice and Florence. In 1864 his Oedipus and the Sphinx, much influenced by the Italian Renaissance masters, won a medal at the Salon but later negative critical responses led to a withdrawal from submitting work for exhibition. In 1876 Salome Dancing before Herod resurrected his critical reputation. In the 1870s he completed 63 watercolours illustrating the fables of La Fontaine for a collector. 

His choice of subject matter was invariably religious of mythological, sometimes extending to the occult. One critic has summed him up as having ’created his own private mythosphere or mental otherworlds’ 

In 1882 he began to revise many of the unfinished painting in his studio some dating to previous decades. (Many of these works remained in his studio at his death – his studio, with its contents, is now preserved as the Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris). He did however continue to complete many small scale works.

He was made an Officier of the Legion d’honneur in 1883. In 1888 his paintings were acclaimed in the Symbolist novel A Rebours and his fame grew. Moreau’s influence on contemporary Symbolist painters was considerable but he refused to join them in showing at the Salon de la Rose+Cross. However, his Symbolist aesthetic is clear from his explanatory commentaries on Jupiter and Semele his late masterpiece which remained in his studio when he died.

He was appointed Professor at the Ecole des Beaux Arts on 1 January 1892 at the age of sixty six and he was soon considered to be the most committed and open-minded member of the teaching staff. He encouraged his students not to blindly follow rules cherished by earlier generations. According to the letters of Henri Evenepoël who attended his classes at the same time as Matisse, he was ‘a charming master, with a white beard, smiling face, alert little eyes and smiling demeanour’. He was often the first to arrive and the last to leave. 

Matisse reflected that ‘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 … leave them, around thirty, with … an extremely limited sensibility’. While on visits to the Louvre, Matisse described him as being ‘almost revolutionary’ in his encouragement for them to discover things for themselves.


1826 Born in Paris.

1849 After studying at the École des Beaux-Arts, Moreau enters for the Prix de Rome but fails to win.

1852 Moreau exhibits a Pietà at the Salon.

1857 Travels to Italy to study in Rome, Venice and Florence.

1860 Returns to France.

1864 Wins a medal at the Salon for Oedipus and the Sphinx.

1869 The critics attack the works he exhibits at the Salon. After this, his appearances at the Salon are few.

1880 He submits paintings to the Salon for the last time.

1883 He is made an Officier of the Légion d’Honneur.

1884 J.K. Huysmans writes about Moreau’s art in a widely read novel, A Rebours, which confirms and enhances his fame.

1890 Moreau’s mistress Alexandrine Dureux dies.

1892 Appointed professor at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he teaches Henri Matisse and Albert Marquet.

1895 Moreau makes alterations to his Paris home converting it into a museum.

1898 Dies in Paris.