A Painting by Gustave Doré for the Monastery in Brou

Gustave Doré (1832-1883)
Vivian and Merlin, c. 1867
Oil on Canvas - 171 x 122 cm
Bourg-en-Bresse, Musée du
monastère royal de Brou
Photo : Louis Houdus / MRB

11/3/13 - Acquisition - Bourg-en-Bresse, Monastère royal de Brou - All fairies are not good and all wizards are not infallible. This is what Gustave Doré tells us in his painting, Vivian and Merlin, just acquired by the museum in Bourg-en-Bresse and part of the recent exhibition on the artist at this establishment. The work was purchased from the Whitford Fine Art gallery in London with the help of the Chambre des Notaires in the Ain region and the Fonds régional d’acquisition des musées, as well as a contribution from the city of Bourg-en-Bresse.
The scene illustrates the verse "At Merlin’s feet the wily Vivian lay", taken from the famous Idylls of the King, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson published in 1859 in a series of narrative poems about King Arthur. It was partly translated into French and Gustave Doré did the illustrations. Four of the poems highlight women : Enid, Elaine, Guinevere and the wily Vivian who seduces the elderly Merlin in order to learn his secrets as an enchanter.

The Brou painting is a variation of this illustration. It shows that Doré’s activities as a painter and illustrator were closely linked and that he drew his inspiration from different literary sources. The Musée d’Art moderne et contemporaine in Strasbourg holds a wash representing the same story. The engraving and the wash however depict a more daring, almost lascivious, Vivian while the manipulation of the old man by the young woman is less obvious in the painting which also presents a less disturbing atmosphere, thanks to the opening of the composition in the background offering a glimpse of a luminous horizon.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, mardi 19 mars 2013

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