Art & Culture

Published on May 11th, 2015 | by Julie Chaizemartin

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Renovation of the Gustave Moreau museum. In Search of Lost Time…

Sanctuary of art, lush beauties, refuge of dreamy souls – the Gustave Moreau Museum, formerly the home of the artist, is a place bathed by mysterious dreams and elegiac pictures set in painting by the artist throughout his life. More than an exhibition of works that one can look at, a museum sentimental – that is, felt – themed from room to room, from the artist’s dining room to his large workshops that occupied the 2nd and 3rd floors. This was the theater of his life, both intimate and grandiose, reminiscent of a home of Pierre Loti in Rochefort or the English dwelling of Sir John Soane in London. The House museum of Gustave Moreau is a small box of wonders. When opened, one embarks on its strange and fabulous universe made of shadows and lights, carmine red and golden yellow, visions and faces. The presence of cupboards and furniture exhibitions made from panels and swing frames are both playful and practical to display the maximum drawings and paintings. Some of the furniture has been drawn by Gustave Moreau himself, who said, “I think about my death and the fate of my poor little works and all these compositions I take the time to make. Separated, they perish; taken together, they give a little idea of who I was as an artist and the environment in which I liked to dream.”

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View of the Gustave Moreau workshop. Photo by Telerama.

It is only natural that he would decide to make this a perfectly organized museum he bequeathed to the French State in 1897, a year before his death. The family home stays as is and should not be transformed. Everything thus carries the emotional weight of these objects and familiar places that seem alive but whisper extraordinary stories of the past. The delicate antique furniture for hanging works remain faithful to what Gustave Moreau wanted by the grace of his testamentary wishes. In the boudoir rest personal belongings of his mistress, Alexandrine Dureux, whose death in 1890 greatly affected the artist. Here and there are bronzes, antique vases, clocks, and Chinese and Italian ceramics. Portraits and photographs that keep track of the passage of his friends including Théodore Chassériau, Fromentin or Edgar Degas, who he encountered during a trip to Italy.

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Gustave Moreau. Photo by musée Moreau.

A page in the history of the Parisian art was written here in these walls, in this neighborhood, spontaneously renamed New Athens in the early nineteenth century, but largely forgotten today. Located at the foot of Montmartre, this area has indeed seen poets, romantics, travelers, and artists through the streets of Martyrs, Saint-Lazare, Blanche and Tour des Dames, including, of course, the street from the house of Moreau, Rue de la Rochefoucauld. It contained nearly 80 painters and sculptors that have established residence since 1850, including the iconic pair George Sand and Frédéric Chopin.

Gustave Moreau was an original character who lived only through his painting. Did he not described himself as an artist bridging two eras, that of the great classical history painting and that of a particular artistic innovation embodied by the color of the “Fauves?”

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Paintings, drawings, watercolors and cartons, on the walls of the house of the painter. Photo by Linternaute.com.

Paintings, drawings, watercolors and cartons, on the walls of the house of the painter today offer visitors their sinuous forms, multiple and colorful, their bronzed clothes and their mythological figures, their poets crowned with laurels and their bare nymphs, their animals fantastic and exuberant nature. The colors are those of a palette that sometimes brings out the chiaroscuro, sometimes the plethora of tones, creating complex compositions, ranging from mysticism, heroism and eroticism. The proclamation of the artist’s genius is in this unique work, whose precision of line betrays the insatiable quest for perfection. But, also the pursuit of long lost ancient times. Everything seems to have inspired the master of symbolism, from gothic alcoves to romantic songs, to the bodies and faces of the Renaissance, Baroque and features of the classical period.

For a year, the museum has undergone renovation and extension work leading up to its opening to the public on January 22, 2015. This work took into account the respect of the original museum Gustave Moreau, whose will states that it should not be converted and must keep the initial character. But also the work led, as stated by Marie-Cécile Forest, director of the museum, to “a return to the origin of the place” and to address “the issue of reservations” that house 13,000 artworks, including 10,000 drawings and 3,000 photographs and engravings. Scientific investigations have revealed the presence of old wallpaper in the six rooms on the ground floor, which have been open to the public. 400 paintings are now visible as well as an outstanding collection of watercolors by the artist, considered by some as the crown jewel of the museum. At the same time, the basement was remodeled and widened to clear the greatest reserve spaces and accommodate a graphic arts firm. This work was carried out by architects Bernard Bauchet and Sabine Krantz.

Despite all of the fantasies and all of the expectations, revered by André Breton and Marcel Proust, the largest French symbolist painter museum opened to the public in a new light. It presents a great opportunity to re-look at the painting of Gustave Moreau. Meditating on its meaning, it’s still mysterious.

Note that the Gustave Moreau museum has the largest collection of the artist’s works, but it is also very well represented in American collections (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, The Art Institute of Chicago, Detroit Institute of Art ; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, The Armand Hammer Museum of Art-year Cultural Center, Los Angeles; P. The Getty Museum, Los Angeles; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rhode Island Scholl of Design, Providence, The Saint Louis Art Museum , Missouri, National Gallery of Art, Washington).

Useful information:

Gustave Moreau National Museum

14, rue de la Rochefoucauld, 75009 Paris

Open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10 am to 12:45 pm and from 2 to 5 :15 pm

Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 5:45 pm

Closed on Tuesdays.


About the Author

Historienne de l'art et journaliste. Diplômée en droit et en histoire de l'art à la Sorbonne et à l’École du Louvre, Julie collabore à plusieurs magazines sur des sujets historiques et culturels. Elle a également créé en 2011 un fonds de dotation qui soutient des projets de sauvegarde du patrimoine à l'étranger (en collaboration avec l'UNESCO) et est l'auteur du livre "Ferrare, joyau de la Renaissance italienne" publié en 2012 (éditions Berg International).



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