'I am dominated by one thing, an irresistible, burning attraction towards abstraction. The expres- sion of human feelings and the passions of man certainly interest me deeply, but I am less concerned with expressing these motions of the soul and mind than to render visible, so to speak, the inner flashes of unknown origins, which have something divine in their apparent insignificance and reveal magic horizons, I could even call them divine, when they are transposed into the marvellous effects of pure plastic art.'

It cannot be emphasized too much that these 'inner flashes' do not necessarily depend on the sublime character of the chosen 'subject'. Moreau, as distinct from Ingres and a good many academicians who seemed convinced that a sublime 'subject' necessarily implied a sublime work, he went so far as to say, 'Inspiration is never to be found in the subject, it is in the soul of the artist and the choice of subject matter is unimportant. — José Pierre, p. 94.

Gustave Moreau must be the central figure in any discussion of Symbolist art. In comparison with his contemporaries, Moreau emerges as an artist of a very special and distinctive kind. As Mario Praz points out, in The Romantic Agony, 'Moreau followed the example of Wagner's music, composing his pictures in the style of symphonic poems, loading them with significant accessories in which the principal theme was echoed, until the subject yielded the last drop of its symbolic sap.' We may also apply to Moreau's work a comment made by the American critic Victor Brombert on Flaubert's Salammbo: he remarks on the 'immobilization of life and animation of the inanimate' to be found in that work: 'As a result of this double tendency . . . the distinction between the organic and the inorganic vanishes, and being and becoming tend to merge.'

Moreau was an advocate of two linked principles - those of the Beauty of Inertia and of the Necessity of Richness. He himself remarked: 'One must only love, dream a little, and refuse to be satisfied, under pretext of simplicity, where a work of the imagination is concerned, with a simple, boring ba-bo-boo.' Like that of Burne- Jones, Moreau's rise to fame was a gradual one, and, despite the eminence of his admirers, and the vocal nature of their enthusiasm, he has always remained something of a special taste. — Edward Lucie-Smith (63)

The Artist



Cassou, Jean. The Concise Encylopedia of Symbolism. Trans. Susie Saunders. Chartwell Books, n.d. [Original French edition: Paris: Editions Aimery Somogy, 1979.]

Jullian, Philippe. The Symbolists. Trans. Mary Anne Stevens. London: Phaidon, 1973.

Kaplan, Julius. Gustave Moreau. Exhibition catalogue. Greenwich, Connecticut: New York Graphic Society, 1974.

Lucie-Smith, Edward. Symbolist Art. Trans. Mary Ann Stevens. London: Thames and Hudson, 1972.

Paladilhe, Jean, and José Pierre. Gustave Moreau. Trans. Bettina Wadia. New York: Praeger, 1972.

[This volume actually contains two separate studies, the first Paladilhe's "Gustave Moreau: His Life and Work" (pp. 1-72); the second Pierre's "Gustave Moreau through the eyes of succeeding generations" (pp. 73-171). The two authors do not always agree!

Last modified 11 April 2008