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

La Chimère

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
La Chimère
signed '.Gustave Moreau.' and with monogram '.GM.' (lower left); and further signed, dated and inscribed 'La Chimère-Gustave Moreau-1866' (on the reverse)
oil on panel
13 x 10½ in. (33 x 26.6 cm.)
Painted in 1866.
Collection Wertheimber (acquired directly from the artist for 2,500 FF). Collection Maza.
Anon. sale, Drouot, Paris, 23 March 1907, lot 26.
Collection Daniel Wildenstein.
Acquired by the present owner in 1996.
P.-L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: Complete edition of the finished paintings, watercolours and drawings, 1977, p. 309-310, no. 88. P.-L. P.-L. Mathieu, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Gustave Moreau, Paris, 1991, p. 189, no. 120.
P.-L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau, Paris-New York, 1994, p. 101.
P.-L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: L'assembleur de rêves, Paris, 1998, p.74.
P.-L. Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: Monographie et Nouveau catalogue de l'oeuvre achevé, Paris, 1998, p. 393, no. 103 (illustrated pp. 304 and 153).
Paris, 1906, no. 84 (Collection Maza).
Tokyo, Gallery Fujikawa, Moreau-Bourdelle, 1971, no. 2.
Tokyo, Gallery Fujikawa, 1976.
Ausstellung Gustave Moreau, 1986.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Moreau Symboliste, 1986, no. 26.
Kamakura, Musée d'Art Modern, Gustave Moreau et le Symbolisme, 1984, no. 56.
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Lot Essay

We are grateful to Pierre-Louis Mathieu for his assistance cataloguing this work.

The final decades of the nineteenth century saw the influence of Symbolist art spread across Europe. Inspired by Celtic and Norse legends, and Florentine and Byzantine art, its aim was to find the key to 'anywhere out of the world'. Gustave Moreau is perhaps the most famous exponent of this reaction against the Realists such as Gustave Courbet. Influenced by the work of his friends Théodore Chassériau and Odilon Redon, he evolved what was described as a 'new type of beauty' inspired by the past and the realm of the imagination.
La Chimère (1867) is an exceptional example of Moreau's symbolist ideal, embodying his fascination with legends and his first-hand experience of Italian art. He was mesmerised by the mythical figure of the Chimera - a female monster, which in mythology symbolised something hoped for but illusory - and illustrated it a number of times between 1856 and 1884. As early as 1856, the subject appears in one of his drawings La Chimère (Private collection) seen in the Catalogue raisonné under no. 46, then reappears ten years later in this refined oil painting. The artist subsequently executed further versions in watercolour.

In Moreau's moralising symbolism, he represents an enamoured woman suspended from the neck of a winged centaur; an allegory of carnal love, which, as Pierre Mathieu states, could only lead to the abyss.

In 1884 he articulates this theme one last time in a large scale canvas that remains unfinished and is now in the Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris. Titled both as Les Chimères, and Décameron Satanique, Moreau's intention was to, in his own words, represent woman as the femme fatale, as a vehicle of 'the unconscious, the fascination with the unknown mystery, the lust for evil in the form of perverse and diabolical seduction.'

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