Early works by Gustave Moreau join Orsay and Dijon

1. Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)
Sixtus the Fifth’s Childhood
Oil on canvas - 41 x 27.5 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : H. Duchemin, cabinet Turquin

15/6/09 – Acquisitions – Paris, Musée d’Orsay and Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts – Orsay has just bought a painting by Gustave Moreau representing Sixtus the Fifth’s Childhood (ill. 1) from Hubert Duchemin (Eric Turquin gallery).

The work had appeared, anonymously, at a small auction at the Hôtel Drouot in the early 1990’s, then was acquired by a dealer who was unable to identify it and kept it in his private collection. The attribution could in fact go to either Gustave Moreau or Théodore Chassériau, the first showing a style very close to the second early in his career. The problem of differentiating the two artists, which remained unsolved for a long time, was recently settled thanks to a discovery by Edwart Vignot of a group of early drawings by Gustave Moreau highlighted in an exhibition at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (see news item of 18/10/05 in French). When these sheets resurfaced, the issue of attribution for this painting was definitely resolved without any doubt and acknowledged as being by Gustave Moreau, confirmed by Edwart Vignot then by Louis-Antoine Prat.
However, the iconography was still unknown and, if possible, there had to be proof that it corresponded to a composition painted by the artist. Finally, Geneviève Lacambre found the answer in the Livre de notes where Moreau listed his drawings. There is indeed a listing for “Sixtus and the witch”. This is a known subject thanks to a painting by Jean-Victor Schnetz, Sixtus the Fifth’s Childhood (Arras), where a fortune-teller predicts a brilliant future to the pope. The treatment and the spirit of both canvases, the one by Schnetz and that of Gustave Moreau, are however, extremely different and there is no proof that one influenced the other. They might very well have drawn on the same literary source.

2. Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)
Head of a Drunk Soldier
Pencil - 29.3 x 21.9 cm
Dijon Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : ENSBA

Still on Gustave Moreau and his similarities with Chassériau, we would like to point out a donation in 2008 by Edwart Vignot to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon of a drawing representing the Head of a Drunk Soldier (ill. 2) preparatory to the Song of Songs, a painting held at this establishment, as well as the purchase by the museum of seven other drawings, studies for this same canvas [1].

Version française

, lundi 15 juin 2009


[1] They had all been presented and published by the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts.

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