March 20, 2016

A Visit to the Musée Gustave Moreau

The French painter Gustave Moreau is generally considered the preeminent practitioner of the Symbolist art movement popular during the late 19th century.  His large canvases of biblical and mythological scenes are beautifully colored works that are abstract, poetic, mysterious and uniquely his own.

Beside being a very talented painter, Moreau was also a fine draftsman and watercolorist and a dedicated teacher at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.  A man of few friends, he was devoted to his parents and lived with them almost all of his life.  In fact, it is the family home at 14 Rue de la Rochefoucauld in the IX arrondissement, that is now a museum dedicated to work of Gustave Moreau and my destination on a recent Sunday afternoon.

What is particularly noteworthy about this building is that Moreau always intended it to be a museum after his death.  When the house was purchased in 1852 it served as both the family apartment and his atelier.  In 1895, after the death of both of his parents, he ordered the expansion of his studios and the addition of two rooms on the main floor all with an eye to a permanent posthumous exhibition space.  The museum opened to the public in 1903, five years after his death, and was a favorite haunt of the Surrealists.  It was renovated and re-opened in 2003 and is now a popular destination for Parisians and tourists alike.

Unlike most museums dedicated to the work of one artist, the Musee Gustave Moreau allows visitors a look at both the private apartment and the working studios and offers over 8,000 works of art for your viewing pleasure.  Entering on the ground floor we find a reception area and a few very small rooms that are filled floor to ceiling with drawings and paintings.

Upstairs on the first floor is Moreau's private apartment that is furnished as it was when he lived there.   We find a dining room, in his mother's former bedroom, now filled with art and Majolica porcelain...

the artist's bedroom...

and his boudoir/office...

As you can see, each of these small rooms is like a cabinet of curiosities with not a square inch of space left empty!  This claustrophobic decorating scheme changes entirely when we mount the next flight of stairs and enter the vast studio that comprises the second and third floors joined by an incredible spiral staircase.

Moreau commissioned this super-sized atelier to accommodate his massive canvases, although how he moved them in and out is a mystery!  Some of his paintings are truly monumental, like his masterpiece "Jupiter and Semele" that measures over seven feet tall.

Literally hundreds of paintings are hung "salon" style, each one ornately framed and together they cover the surface of the entire wall.

As if this is not enough of a treasure trove, ingeniously designed cabinets, both free standing and against the walls, can be opened to reveal an enormous collection of matted and framed drawings and watercolors.

Truth be told, I have never been a huge fan of the work of Gustave Moreau finding it a little too much in the realm of "fantasy" art, but as often happens after viewing a single artist exhibition, I gained a new appreciation for his technique and vision.  Nevertheless, the opportunity to explore a historic home, especially one with such unique decorative features, is not to be missed and I would recommend a visit to the Musee Gustave Moreau to anyone interested in an off the beaten path experience.

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