History has bequeathed us a great repertoire of femmes fatales who are not Scarlet Johanssen or Sharon Stone – but had Gustave Moreau been alive today he probably would have painted them too, as kin to the endless number of heroines who captivated him in the late nineteenth century. Powerful and beautiful women like the legendary Cleopatra and the vampiric Messalina, the deadly but fascinating Salomé and Lady Macbeth, and luscious, hapless victims of male lust such as Helen of Troy – beauties whose names are the stuff of legend. Moreau brings them alive for us, as well as men like Oedipus whose lives were bound by tragic destiny.
Gustave Moreau is one of the radical artists of the nineteenth century whose imagination seems to anticipate the cinematic. His art is one of spectacle and alive with fabulous stories. Unique in his own time, especially for painting the great mythological and exotic stories of the ancient world, erotic and often violent, Moreau’s painterly bravura is vivid, his colour dazzling and jewel-like. At times he applies paint and uses mixed media with a freedom verging on the abstract - so that he seems to possess a modern sensibility.
His is an intriguing tale in itself – alternately ignored and fêted in his own time he remains an enigmatic figure whose relationships with the female sex are elusive. Visitors will be seduced by this exhibition of 117 ravishing paintings drawings and watercolours, which explores the artist’s obsession with the “Eternal Feminine” and provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these works in Australia, direct from the acclaimed Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris.
Exhibition organised with Musée Gustave-Moreau
Curator: Marie-Cécile Forest, Director, Musée Gustave-Moreau and Ted Gott, National Gallery of Victoria