MOREAU Gustave
( 1826-1898) French painter; born and died in Paris. Gustave Moreau plays, in the history of contemporary art, only an episodic part. He has the merit of having been, at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts, the teacher of Rouault, Matisse, Marquet and Jean Puy -- the group of young men from whom Fauvism would spring. One is grateful to him for having preserved the personality of his pupils and thus prepared the blossoming of an essential movement in contemporary art. But there would be some injustice in seeing him merely as a teacher. We should like to see him placed at the source of Surrealism, for more than any other painter he possessed the secret of an unexpected magic. He knew that the object contains a mystery and can express a whole unknown world beyond appowances, and that forms and colours are a language. He may be reproached for a somewhat artificial fantasy and an excessively literary mythology, but in this field, too, he is a forerunner of the Surrealists. Excluded from modern painting, in this way he has his justification as a precursor. He was not only concerned with the plastic problems that form the basis of contemporary art, he was also the master of an extremely elaborate technique.
He wanted to introduce a notion of magic into painting, a part of the incomprehensible and unconscious world in which everything could become a symbol. Considered in this light, the arty of Gustave Moreau acquires a significant value. There was religious feeling in his mind, less involved with the Catholic faith than attracted by a curious pantheism. He made his fabulous heroes -- the Sphinx, the Chimera, Salome -- live in a glitter of gems, in the glow of sumptuous clothes and strange lights. His admiration for Delacroix and especially for Chassériau could not save him from certain excesses and bondage to a pseudo-poetry whose artificiality is transparent today. What appears to us the bric-à-brac of cheap fantasy is none the less the work of a thoroughly sincere artist quite free from morbid obsessions.
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