A Land of Myths

The Art of Gustave Moreau

19 February 2009 - 19 March 2009

Gustave Moreau, Orpheus <br> (c) Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Gustave Moreau, Orpheus
(c) Musée d'Orsay, Paris

The Museum of Fine Arts' exhibition opening on 19 February will display over 160 works by Gustave Moreau, the French symbolist artist regarded as the forerunner of modern art. The aim of the exhibition entitled Land of Myths is not merely to acquaint the Hungarian public with the works of this as yet little known painter but also to render a kind of reinterpretation of Moreau's oeuvre. The large-scale exhibition was realised in co-operation with the Moreau Museum in Paris and will be open to the public until 3 May.

Land of Myths will provide the first opportunity for the public in Hungary and the Central European region to see the art of Gustave Moreau at an independent exhibition.

Between September 2008 and June 2009 the Museum of Fine Arts' programme includes three exhibitions displaying representative works linked to the symbolist-secessionist tastes at the end of the 19th century: last autumn the public was presented with the art of Ferdinand Hodler, and at the beginning of this year Gustav Moreau's works and then those of Alfons Mucha will be exhibited.

Gustave Moreau was one of the initiators of French and international symbolism and the idol of a whole generation of painters at the end of the 19th century. He was respected far more than any of the academicians and indeed more than those artists who had flocked to the flag of Impressionism and later became renowned in their own right. He had many close and friendly ties with the radical literary reformers of the period and his works served as inspiration for the creation of poems and works of prose. His contemporaries even modelled the figure of the typical artist hero of the time on Moreau. Although in the early and mid-20th century his art was sidelined, thanks to changes in artistic tastes that have developed in the last few decades, his name and popularity again bask in that same light that surrounded him during his own lifetime.

Gustave Moreau, Salome <br> (c) Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris
Gustave Moreau, Salome
(c) Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris

Between 1860-70 Gustave Moreau caused a sensation on several occasions at the Salon exhibitions with his splendid, rich depictions of large-scale mythological scenes. The Budapest exhibition displays two of the key works from this period, Orpheus and Prometheus. In the same period Moreau began painting one of his most mysterious paintings, subtitled Salome Tattooed, which forms part of his series depicting the dancing Salome and which he feverishly worked on during the last years of his life. In 1880, at the height of his success, Gustave Moreau resigned from public appearances and continued artistic experimentation in the seclusion of his studio. His scenes imbued with mysticism conjure up a world of lost civilizations and ancient myths, his style following the sensuous beauty of Romanticism. These compositions in which their maker unleashed his imagination are painted with intense colours and impulsive gestures, some of which border on abstraction. The works he created at this time remained hidden from the outside world and were only discovered over half a century after the artist's death by critics, and subsequently introduced to the public.

The exhibition wishes to demonstrate the richness, thematic diversity and formal innovativeness of Moreau's art and will include not only the popular works displayed with great success at the annual Salon exhibitions but also later ones, which were kept hidden from the general public for a long time. The displayed works are organised around the mythological and mythical figures (Orpheus, Prometheus, Hercules, Jupiter, Leda, Salome and the Unicorn) that played a key role in Moreau's art. The opening work of the exhibition is the polyptych entitled with one of the versions of The Life of Humanity, created as a summation of the primeval sources of civilisation: the one constructed in the form of small, individually framed panels closely placed together. This will be followed by thematic groups made up of one or two highlighted works of Moreau's oeuvre and accompanied by smaller paintings, studies, drawings and watercolours to demonstrate the wide spectrum of Moreau's technical innovation and how he gave free rein to his imagination by making variations on the same subjects.

Gustave Moreau, Leda <br> (c) Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris
Gustave Moreau, Leda
(c) Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris

The works have been selected for the exhibition in order to emphasise the novelty of Moreau's painting and its important role in preparing the ground for modern artistic aspirations. Therefore, several works will be included that point towards the liberation of the technical possibilities of painting and in fact reach pure abstraction in some instances. These splendid late works have a rich palette and relaxed expressivity, and are detached from their original themes. Despite their artistic qualities, they are not exhibited in public collections but are preserved in the exhibition halls and the vaults of the Gustave Moreau Museum. The exhibition material will also include some large-size drawings that for a long time languished in storerooms away from the public gaze, and which were restored only in the recent past.

The exhibition was realised in collaboration with the Gustave Moreau Museum in Paris. With only one exception, all the works came to Budapest from the collection of the artist's studio and home, which was converted into a museum. Thanks to a contribution by the Musée d'Orsay, these works are supplemented with a masterpiece from his early period: Orpheus, which was exhibited in 1866.

The exhibition's curator is art historian Ferenc Tóth.

A Land of Myths
A Land of Myths

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