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Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)

Sainte Cécile et les anges de la musique

Details
Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
Sainte Cécile et les anges de la musique
signed 'Gustave Moreau' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25½ x 21¼ in. (64.8 x 54cm)
Painted circa 1880-85.
Provenance
with Isidore Montaignac, Galerie d'art, Paris, 1886.
with Louis Mante, Marseille, and thence by descent to his daughter Mme. Jean Rostand, Ville d'Avray.
Anonymous sale; Drouot, Paris, 10 December 1980, lot 51.
Sir Paul Getty, K.B.E., thence by descent to the present owners.
Literature
A. Renan, Gustave Moreau, Paris, 1900, p. 34.
P.-L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: Complete edition of the finished paintings, watercolours and drawings, Oxford, 1977, p. 369, no. 413 (illustrated).
P.-L. Mathieu, Le rêve chez Gustave Moreau, Le Prix de l'Art, Paris, 1981, p. 150 (illustrated).
G. Moreau, L'assembleur de rêves: écrits complets de Gustave Moreau, Fontispiece, Fata Morgana, 1984, pp. 116-7.
P.-L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau, Paris, 1994, p. 204.
P.-L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: Monographie et nouveau catalogue de l'oeuvre achevé, Paris, 1998, p. 417, no. 450 (illustrated).
Exhibition catalogue; Gustave Moreau (1826-1898), Paris, Chicago, New York, 1998-99, p. 164.
Exhibited
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Exposition Gustave Moreau au profit des oeuvres du travail et des pauvres honteux (Preface by R. de Montesquiou), 1906, no. 78 (collection Louis Mante).
Kofu, Yamanashi Prefectural Museum of Art, Gustave Moreau et le Symbolisme, 1984-5, no. 102; this exhibition later travelled to Kamakura, Museum of Modern Art, and Tsu, Mie Prefectural Art Museum.
Tokyo, Gallery Yayoi.

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Alexandra McMorrow
Alexandra McMorrow

Lot Essay

Gustave Moreau had two incentives to focus on the subject of Saint Cecilia, a favourite theme for artists since the Renaissance. Firstly, it was a change from his focus upon the femmes fatales such as Salomé, Messaline and Helen from the preceding years, for Saint Cecilia, the Christian martyr, symbolised purity and virginity. Secondly, there was a more personal interest in Cecilia, for she is the patron saint of musicians and Moreau himself was a connoisseur of music. He frequented concert halls, sang often and was known for his fine tenor voice. Indeed, he had made close fiends with Georges Bizet, Grand Prix de Rome in 1857, while staying at the Villa Medici. Both friends often purchased 'entire partitions' together and it was to Moreau that Bizet submitted his first opera in 1859.

In the present painting Moreau re-uses the general composition of the large King David (fig. 1) that the artist presented to the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878. The saint, richly dressed, is seated on a throne, under the arcade of a palace more Byzantine in inspiration than Roman, while in the dusky background is the setting sun with a flock of white swans in full flight.

In his personal library Moreau kept a copy of Jacques de Voragine's Golden Legend. Inspired by this late 13th-century text, in which Voragine describes the lives and appearances of the saints in detail, Moreau represents Saint Cecilia surrounded by her principal mythological attributes: the richly worked lyre, the golden vase from which spring three white lilies, symbols of virginity. Jacques de Voragine wrote of how Saint Cecilia was so close to the heavens that she could hear the angels celebrating the glory of God. Moreau indicates this in the painting by placing three cherubs, playing musical instruments in dresses reminiscent of the old master Jan van Eyck, floating above her head.

It is difficult to date this very refined work precisely, although it is typical of Moreau's style in the years between 1875 to 1885. In a personal inventory of his paintings, the 'Livre Rouge' of 1885, Moreau mention's this painting (no. 31) as 'Sold'. It seems the buyer was the young dealer, Isidore Montaignac, who then sold it to the Marseilles shipping magnate, Louis Mante, who at the time also owned Salomé (The Armand Hammer Collection, UCLA, Los Angeles) and 'sadness spread across the young woman's face as a presentiment of her tragic yet glorious destiny. It is the hour of mysterious voices and the selection of tones, in the values and arabesque of the principal lines that give the work an almost sacred character.' (P.-L. Mathieu, L'assembleur de rêves: Ecrits complets de Gustave Moreau, Paris, pp. 116-117). The painting was subsequently passed down to the magnate's daughter, wife of the famous biologist Jean Rostand, member of the Académie Française.

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