The museum is installed in the painter’s family home, as a project conceived by Gustave Moreau (1826-1898). The apartments on the first floor form a small sentimental museum displaying family portraits and works given to Moreau by his friends Théodore Chassériau and Edgar Degas.
The second and third floors are taken up with huge studios, containing hundreds of paintings and watercolours. The walls are covered with over four thousand drawings that give a broad perspective of the techniques and subjects of the undisputed master of French Symbolism. A unique house-studio in Paris, the Musée National Gustave Moreau has managed to retain all the magic of its original atmosphere.
The art of Gustave Moreau
With his Academic, Romantic and Italianised styles, Gustave Moreau could only be an eclectic artist, borrowing, like so many of his successful fellow artists, the constituent elements of an impersonal style. There are times when Michelangelo’s prototype of an ephebe can be detected in his figures or when the bluish backgrounds and chiaroscuro of Leonardo da Vinci are a little too evident. But mostly, these references, along with a taste for the sinuous lines of Indian miniatures and a precision of line and shape inspired by a thousand and one models collected from engravings, all combine in the end, blending inextricably to form original, highly individualised creations, that resemble no other. Moreau believed that painting was, by definition, a rich art, which should aim to rival the intense colours of enamel painting: a work like Jupiter and Semele is an excellent example of this principle.
For Moreau, as for da Vinci and Poussin, artists he liked to refer to, painting was a cosa mentale. It does not seek to recreate on canvas an observation of nature but first and foremost addresses the spirit, and comes from the innermost depths of the artist. Moreau wanted to create a body of work where, in his own words, the soul could find: all the aspirations of dreams, tenderness, love, enthusiasm and religious ascent towards the higher spheres, where everything in it is elevated, inspiring, moral and beneficent; where all is imaginative and impulsive soaring off into sacred, unknown, mysterious lands. Moreau’s painting is meant to inspire dreams rather than thought. It seeks to transport the viewer into another world.
Even in his choice of subjects, Moreau wanted to distance himself from the facts of reality and experience. A deeply religious person, although non-practising, he felt that painting, a mirror of physical beauty, also reflected the great fervour of the soul, the spirit, the heart and the imagination, and had fulfilled the divine needs of mankind throughout time.
“It is the language of God! One day the eloquence of this silent art will be appreciated. I have lavished all my care and endeavour on this eloquence, whose character, nature and spiritual power have never been satisfactorily defined. The evocation of thought through line, arabesque and technique: this is my aim.”
Musée National Gustave Moreau 14 rue de La Rochefoucauld, 75009 Paris Tel: +33 (0)1 48 74 38 50 open every day except Tuesday: 10am-12.45pm 2pm-5.15pm (last admission 5pm) admission full rate €5