Le songe d'un habitant du Mogol
signed 'Gustave Moreau' (lower right)
watercolor, gouache and graphite on paper
9 3/4 x 7 1/2 in. (24.7 x 19 cm.) inside the border
15 1/4 x 12 1/2 in. (38.7 x 31.8 cm.) the sheet
Executed circa 1881
Edmund Malassis (1874-1944), Paris.
Private collection, Paris, by 1960, until at least 1989.
Hiroshi Matsuo, Japan, by 1994.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 24 May 1995, lot 73.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty from the above.
S. Alexandrian, Gustave Moreau's Universe, New York, 1975, p. 60, as The Dream of an Inhabitant of Mogol.
R. Von Holten, L'Art Fantastique de Gustave Moreau, Paris, 1960, p. 38, fig. 53.
P. L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: sa vie, son oeuvre, catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre achevé, Paris, 1976, p. 336, no. 267, illustrated.
P. L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: Complete Edition of the Finished Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings, Oxford, 1977, p. 343, no. 267, pl. 153, illustrated, as The Dream of an Inhabitant of Mongolia.
P. L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau, aquarelles, Fribourg, 1984, p. 96.
P. L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau, The Watercolors, New York, 1985, p. 84, as The Dream of a Mongol Dweller.
P. L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau, Paris, 1994, p. 186, illustrated.
‌C. Hill, tr., The Fables of La Fontaine, Malakoff, 2021, illustrated, pp. 81, 82, as The Dream of an Inhabitant of the Mughal Empire.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Gustave Moreau Symboliste, 14 March-25 May 1986, p. 188, no. 71, illustrated, p. 189.
Yamanashi, Departmental Museum of Art, Gustave Moreau et le Symbolisme, 9 September-14 October 1984; also Kamakura, Museum of Modern Art, 27 October-2 December 1984; and Mié, Departmental Museum of Art, 4 January-11 February 1985, p. 110, no. 78, illustrated p. 112.
Florence, Sala d'Arme di Palazzo Vecchio, Gustave Moreau (1828-1898), 18 March-4 June 1989; also Ferrara, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Palazzo dei Diamanti, 25 June-30 September 1989, no. 41, illustrated, as Il Sogno di un abitante del Mogol.

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Joshua Glazer
Joshua Glazer Specialist, Head of Private Sales

Lot Essay

The present work is a replica of the same subject created by Moreau for the Marseille collector Antoni Roux. Roux was an avid collector and personal friend of Moreau and his patronage resulted in one of Moreau's most important commissions–the watercolor illustrations for the 17th-century Fables of Jean de La Fontaine, which the artist worked on from 1879-1886. ‘Le songe d'un habitant du Mogol’ appears as Fable IV in Book XI of La Fontaine’s stories. Moreau ultimately produced a total of sixty-four La Fontaine illustrations for Roux, however only thirty-five are still known to exist, with a significant number going missing during the Second World War. The present work is one of only a few replicas made by Moreau, likely less than ten, of his original compositions from this series.
Roux’s commission of La Fontaine’s Fables was not originally specific to Moreau, who provided 25 images for the original commission. Roux first asked a group of the greatest artists of the era, including Jean-Léon Gérôme, Henri Gervex and Gustave Doré in addition to Moreau to illustrate La Fontaine’s Fables and showcase the revival of watercolor as a medium. When Roux held the first public exhibition of 150 watercolors in 1881, the critics unanimously recognized the superiority of Moreau’s work (P.-L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: L'assembleur de rêves, Paris, 1998, p. 112). It was in response to this exhibition that Charles Blanc wrote ‘One would have to coin a word for the occasion if one wished to characterize the talent of Gustave Moreau, the work colorism for example, which would well convey all that is excessive, superb and prodigious in his love for color. His watercolors for the Fables of La Fontaine make all the others look dim beside him. It is as if one were in the presence of an illuminant artist who had been a jeweler before becoming a painter, and who, having yielded to the intoxication of color, had ground rubies, sapphires, emeralds, topazes, opals, pearls and mother of pearl to make up his palette’ (C. Blanc, Le Temps, 5 May 1881). Because of the warm reception of Moreau’s watercolors, Roux increased his commission to Moreau to include images depicting 39 additional fables.
La Fontaine’s Fables in many cases derive from Aesop’s fables, making them familiar to an English-speaking audience. However Le songe d'un habitant du Mogol is taken from a tale by the medieval Persian poet Saadi, making it perhaps one of the less immediately recognizable stories in the collection. The fable concerns the dream of an inhabitant of the Mongolian Empire. He had a dream in which he saw ‘a vizier in Elysian bliss’ and ‘a wretched hermit wrapp'd in flame’ as depicted in the roundels at upper right. Surprised by this dream, and wondering if perhaps the fates of these two men in the afterlife had been accidentally switched, he sought out a sage to explain what he had seen. The sage explained that there had been no mistake – the vizier had longed for solitude in his life while the hermit had secretly longed to be at court, and was thus damned. The narrator then waxes poetic about the joys and beauty of solitude, which he craves.
Le songe d'un habitant du Mogol is a brilliant example of the breadth and depth of Moreau’s Orientalist imagination. The languid figure on a divan is of course a familiar orientalist trope, but Moreau’s preparatory drawings for the work illustrate the careful research the artist put into every detail, from the textiles, to the architecture, to the furnishings. Moreau adopted the patterns of the textiles from Japanese woodblock prints, copying the figure’s robe from Hokusai’s Manga. For the architecture of the city seen through the window, Moreau recalled buildings he had seen at the Expositions universelles in Paris and reassembled parts of images he had sourced of Constantinople and other Asian and Middle Eastern cities into a cohesive whole. The statue of Ganesh on the floor in front of the divan is not immediately recognizable in the watercolor, but it is more readable in the preparatory drawings. It too was copied from a display of Asian monuments in the Royal Netherlandish Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, which was illustrated in a contemporary French publication.
The preparatory drawings also demonstrate that Moreau experimented with making the figure of the dreamer smaller and less central, and also with making him a younger man; both ideas were abandoned as the final composition came to fruition. Further, Moreau’s sketches indicate a preoccupation with making sure the patterning of the textiles, architecture, and decorative elements of the room connected seamlessly into one another, creating the highly-textured jewel-like surface of the finished work. Because of the highly worked up nature of the surface of the work, Moreau’s complex and experimental watercolor technique is on full display. The artist laid down washes of color to build up pigment, but followed up with a wet brush without pigment to remove areas of color in places where he wanted them to appear thinner, as seen in the rays extending from the roundels depicting the dream. The signature was similarly applied using this subtractive technique. Moreau used gouache in other areas where he wanted greater texture and opacity as well, as in the deepest blue in the foreground and in parts of the dreamer’s clothing and bedding as well.
‌The present work is one of a small group of works within the Fables series whose particularly high finish and color are set off with a wide, black, painted framing band, a technique Moreau has also used in this replica. It is one of the few replicas made from the series where Moreau repeats his composition so exactly, with only a few small changes in coloration, suggesting the artist was particularly proud of this work among the series.

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