Originally a literary movement initiated by Baudelaire and Poe and continued by the poets Mallarmé and Verlaine, the Symbolists aimed to reveal the oneiric and sometimes decadent spirituality beneath the surface of reality.
Moreau’s early works were influenced by the romantics Delacroix and Chassériau. His first success, Oedipus and the Sphinx, won a medal at the Salon of 1864. The, no doubt, confused reaction of audiences may be judged from the ironic comments of an early critic: “like a pastiche of Mantegna created by a German student who relaxes from his painting by reading Schopenhauer.” Today the influence of Mantegna seems less obvious than the debt to Ingres’ (1780–1867) version of the subject, where Moreau’s more exotic treatment subverts the hallowed tradition of French classicism without abandoning it. He noted he was concerned with the opposition between good and evil, male and female, and physicality and spirituality.
Books on Gustave Moreau
Peter Cooke, Gustave Moreau, History Painting, Spirituality and Symbolism, New Haven, 2014.
Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: Monographie et Nouveau Catalogue de l’Oeuvre Achevé, Paris, 1998.
Ary Renan, Gustave Moreau, 1826-1898, Paris, 1900.