Gustave Moreau: The Fables
Sat 11 July – Sun 25 Oct 2020, Wed-Sun
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.
In collaboration with Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, this exhibition reveals for the first time 34 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.
On display alongside the Fables watercolours are preparatory drawings, including animal studies made from life in the Jardin des Plantes, and the splendid oil painting, The Unicorns, commissioned by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, but which in the end the artist refused to give him. Prints after Moreau’s Fables by Félix Bracquemond demonstrate the translation of the jewel-like colours into velvety monochrome in some of the most innovative etchings of the age.
A version of the exhibition will open at the Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, in November 2020.