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Gustave Moreau: The Fables

16 Jun – 17 Oct 2021

This is a past exhibition

An exhibition of rarely seen watercolours by a great French artist, that illustrate the 17th-century Fables of Jean de la Fontaine.

Gustave Moreau (1826-98) was one of the most brilliant and influential artists associated with the French Symbolist movement. This exhibition aims to display some of the most important works he ever made, unseen in public for over a century.

We are aware that currently the Art Fund website says this is a free exhibition, please note the £5 charge applies to all visitors.

In collaboration with Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, this exhibition reveals for the first time 35 watercolours created by Moreau between 1879 and 1885, on loan from a private collection. They were part of a series commissioned by the art collector Antony Roux to illustrate the 17th-century Fables of Jean de La Fontaine (many of which derive from Aesop’s Fables). They were exhibited in Paris in the 1880s to great acclaim and in London in 1886, where critics frequently compared the artist to Edward Burne-Jones.

Moreau made 64 works for the series, which subsequently entered a Rothschild collection; however, a significant proportion was lost during the Nazi era. The surviving works have not been exhibited since 1906 and they have only ever been published in black and white.

Find out more about La Fontaine's fables in this short film

While many of La Fontaine’s fables depicted within these watercolours will be familiar to British audiences from Aesop’s fables, others are derived from traditional European and Asian stories. There are scenes of comedy, satire and tragedy, and the stylistic range of the watercolours encompasses historicism and the picturesque, Orientalist fantasies and near-abstract chromatic experiments.

A catalogue, Gustave Moreau: The Fables, by Juliet Carey. Hardback, 160 pages, 100 colour illustrations, ISBN: 978-1-911300-86-1, exhibition price £32 and selected postcards and related products are available to order online

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A version of the exhibition will be shown at the Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris in autumn 2021.

Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris

A selection of the watercolours along with more information about Moreau and the Fables by La Fontaine can be seen in our online exhibition.

Discover the online exhibition 

Gustave Moreau Phoebus and Boreas (detail)
Gustave Moreau Phoebus and Boreas (detail) © © Private Rothschild Collection/Jean-Yves Lacôte

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Gustave Moreau shop product range

Browse our online shop for exclusive journals, postcards and watercolour pads inspired by Gustave Moreau.

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