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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more PROPERTY FROM A JAPANESE SYMBOLIST COLLECTION

Femme et Licorne

Femme et Licorne
signed ‘- Gustave Moreau –' (lower left)
watercolour and gouache on paper
14 3/4 x 8 5/8 in. (37.5 x 21.8 cm.)
Executed in 1885.
Dr Edmund Rousseau.
Anonymous sale; Galleria, Paris, 4 December 1972, lot 12, as La femme à la licorne.
Purchased by a private Japanese collector in 1980.
P.-L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau his Life and Works, Catalogue of his Completed Works, Paris-Boston, 1977, p. 353, no. 322, illustrated.
P.-L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: Monograph and New Catalogue of Completed Works, Paris, 1998, p.390, no. 362, illustrated.
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

Brought to you by

Alastair Plumb
Alastair Plumb Specialist, Head of Sale, European Art

Lot Essay

Gustave Moreau's Femme et Licorne was inspired by the six famous medieval tapestries, La Dame à la Licorne, which were acquired by the Musée de Cluny in 1882. The tapestries and subject matter captivated Moreau, as we can see in his various sketches and his masterpiece, La Licornes, held in the Musée national Gustave Moreau. The unicorn, a legendary animal reputed to be fierce and which would only allow itself to be approached by virgins, was the medieval symbol of strength and purity. The composition in the present picture was drawn from the illustrations that Moreau had executed for the Fables de La Fontaine, notably his illustration, Le lion amoureux (P.-L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: Monographie et Nouveau catalogue de l'oeuvre achevé, Paris, 1998, pp. 349 and 371, nos. 235 and 300).
In Femme et Licorne we are presented with a work which radiates calm and contemplation. Moreau depicts a young woman wearing a dark red, sumptuous cape draped over her shoulders and a wide Renaissance beret, in the style of the goddesses painted by the early Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach (1472-1553). The woman reaches down to a white unicorn, symbolising man’s submissiveness to woman. Unlike a similar version of this work where there is a physical connection between the woman and unicorn, here there is a moment of tension captured by the reach and simultaneous distance between the two subjects, mirroring the compositional tradition found in religious noli mi tangere paintings.
As critic Charles Blanc wrote of Moreau's watercolours in Le Temps: 'One would have to coin a word for the occasion if one wished to characterize the talent of Gustave Moreau, the word colourism for example, which would well convey all that is excessive, superb and prodigious in his love of colour. (...) It is as if one were in the presence of an illuminant artist who had been a jeweller before becoming a painter and who, having yielded to the intoxication of colour, had ground rubies, sapphires, emeralds, topazes, opals, pearls and mother of pearl to make up his palette.' (Charles Blanc, Le Temps, 15 May 1881). Femme et Licorne shows how Moreau's works are illuminated by a somewhat mystical light. It sought to transport the viewer to another world where the truths which underlie myths could be unveiled.
The present lot is recorded in the Archives of the Musée national Gustave Moreau as: Vierge et Licorne.

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