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

Le triomphe de Bacchus

Details
Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
Le triomphe de Bacchus
signed '-Gustave Moreau-' (lower left)
oil on panel
9 1/8 x 7 in. (23.2 x 17.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1875-76.
Provenance
The artist.
Auguste Donatis, acquired directly from the above.
with Arnold and Tripp, Paris.
Louise Joséphine Amélie de Saint-Alary (1863-1922), Comtesse de Roederer, Paris, acquired directly from the above.
Georges Wildenstein (1892–1963), Paris.
Confiscated from the above when stored in vault 6, Banque de France, Paris, by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, ERR no. W166.
Transferred to the Devisenschutzkommandos, 30 October 1940.
Transferred to the Jeu de Paume, Paris.
Transferred to Fussen, Germany, 15 January 1943.
Recovered by the Monuments, Fine Art and Archives Section from the 'Large Peter' salt mines, Alt Ausse, Austria, no. 206/36.
Transferred to the Central Collecting Point, Munich, no. 212/36, 20 June 1945.
Repatriated to France, 18 April 1946.
Restituted to the Wildenstein Collection, Paris.
Daniel Wildenstein (1917–2001), Paris, by descent.
Private collection, since 1974.
Literature
P.-L Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: sa vie, son oeuvre; catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre achevée, Fribourg, 1976, p. 314, no. 149, illustrated.
P.-L Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: Complete edition of the finished paintings, watercolours and drawings, Oxford, 1977, p. 320, no. 149, illustrated.
P.-L Mathieu, Gustave Moreau, Monographie et nouveau catalogue de l’oeuvre achevé, Paris, p. 327, no. 171, illustrated, as Triomphe de Bacchus (dans un char trié par des panthères).
Exhibited
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Exposition Gustave Moreau au profit des œuvres du travail et des pauvres honteux, 1906, p. 40, no. 109.
Tokyo, Fujikawa Galleries, Moreau, Bourdelle and Japanese Art, 26 October - 4 November 1971, no. 4, illustrated.

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Lot Essay

In 1876 Gustave Moreau made his triumphant return to the Salon, having not exhibited his work there since 1869. In the intervening years Moreau had remained at his home and studio in Paris and also fought in the Franco-Prussian War, where he had seen the horrors of the War and the Siege of Paris, the sudden fall of the Second Empire, and the violence of the Paris Commune and its bloody repression firsthand. An extremely patriotic man, Moreau was deeply shaken by both the speed and brutality of modern warfare and by the savage inhumanity that he felt had lain waste to his ‘noble France,’ and went several years in this period without painting anything. By the middle years of the 1870s though, an idealist bent had begun to creep back into the artist’s work, which he intended to represent and inspire a rebirth, both spiritual and moral, in France. Le triomphe de Bacchus, painted by Gustave Moreau during this same period of optimism and idealism, represented no smaller idea for the artist than this very rebirth.
Though the figure in the painting is indeed Bacchus – identifiable by his chariot pulled by panthers, wreath of grape leaves, and the thyrsus he carries – Moreau has also imbued the god with distinctly Apollonian characteristics. Gone are the drunken satyrs and bacchantes which usually accompany the heavyset, inebriated Bacchus in his procession, pouring wine and playing music. Instead, the young, thin, noble god rides heroically in his chariot alone, set off dramatically by his billowing red garment and golden halo. This youthful figure, bathed in light, is more in line with depictions of Apollo than Bacchus, as seen in Odilon Redon’s depiction of Apollo’s chariot, which owes much to Moreau’s influence. Though the two gods are considered in more contemporary traditions to be the antithesis of one another, the Greeks considered Apollo and Dionysus, who are brothers, to be complimentary to one another. Moreau, a devoted student of the classical tradition and mythology, was very likely aware of this fact.
It is easy to see how the joining of these two different gods and their associated symbolism would appeal to Moreau at this moment in his life. Bacchus must have held particular appeal because of the god’s own mythological association with rebirth. There are several different versions of Bacchus’s birth, but all involve the god dying shortly after birth and being revived by being sewn into Zeus’s thigh and born again; a theme Moreau himself would take up in his final painting, Jupiter and Semele, 1894-95.
The Apollonian attributes are also important because Moreau had long associated the noble and poetic figure of Apollo with France and the French people. In Louis Ménard’s book Du polytheisme hellénique, a copy of which is conserved in Moreau’s library, Ménard describes Apollo as a figure of peace. The twin ideas of triumphant rebirth and a noble figure who represents peace must have been particularly compelling to Moreau in this post-war period as France recovered from the horrors it had experienced only a few years before. This concurrent mythological representation has also been recognized in another of Moreau's paintings, Hercules and the Lernean Hydra, one of his Salon entries from 1876. In that painting, Moreau conflated the figures of Hercules and Apollo to represent France slaying the Hydra, which is also thought to represent Bismarck and the Prussians or perhaps the revolutionaries of the Commune.

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