Gustave Moreau (1826-98) is one of the most brilliant, yet enigmatic, artists of the French Symbolist movement, but is less well known in Britain than he deserves to be.
In collaboration with Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, the exhibition will reveal for the first time since 1906, 34 watercolours created by Moreau between 1879 and 1885, on loan from a private collection. They were part of a series commissioned by the art collector Antony Roux to illustrate the 17th-century Fables of Jean de La Fontaine (many of which derive from Aesop’s Fables).
They were exhibited in Paris in the 1880s to great acclaim and in London in 1886, where critics frequently compared the artist to Edward Burne-Jones. Moreau made 64 works for the series, which subsequently entered a Rothschild collection; however, a significant proportion was lost during the Nazi era. The surviving works have not been exhibited since 1906 and they have only ever been published in black and white.
Created at the height of the French 19th-century revival of watercolour, their variety of subject matter and technique and their colouristic effects, will be a revelation to visitors. The Fables watercolours form the core of the display with additional loans from the Musée Gustave Moreau. These include preparatory drawings for the Fables, including animal studies made from life in the Jardin des Plantes, and the splendid oil painting, The Unicorns, commissioned by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, but which in the end the artist refused to give him.
Prints after Moreau’s Fables by Félix Bracquemond demonstrate the translation of the jewel-like colours into velvety monochrome in some of the most innovative etchings of the age, while reproductions by Grandhomme and Garnier transform the most delicate effects of the watercolour medium into vitreous enamels.