Théophile Gautier selections at the Musée Gustave Moreau

1. Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)
Prometheus , 1868
Oil on canvas - 205 x 122 cm
Paris, Musée Gustave Moreau
Photo : Didier Rykner

9/3/11 – Hang – Paris, Musée Gustave Moreau – The Gustave Moreau and Balzac museums in Paris inaugurated the first events this year highlighting Théophile Gautier during the bi-centennial celebrating his birth.

The workshop on the rue de La Rochefoucauld of course focuses on the relationship between Moreau and Gautier, or rather the absence of such. Strangely enough, although the writer was the first to discover the artist’s talent, a favorable attitude which he maintained throughout his life, the opposite was not true. Not only is it difficult to determine whether the two men ever met, but the little evidence there is shows that Moreau in no way expressed his appreciation for Gautier’s continued support. He disdainfully called him : “poor Gautier” and was incensed by the only negative comment Gautier wrote about him in 1869, about Jupiter and Europa which the artist exhibited at the Salon and was generally booed by the press.
It is a critic’s fate to be remembered only for his negative opinions which tend to overshadow the positive ones. Moreau’s aggressivity towards the writer does not help to present him in his best light and he might not have been too happy to see Gautier spotlighted in his museum.

Visitors who take the time to read Gautier’s texts on Moreau, conveniently assembled in the catalogue [1], will however note just how well the writer had understood, well before anyone else, the painter’s art.
He talks about Moreau for the first time in 1852, when he exhibited his Pieta [2], then on a regular basis each time the artist presented a work at the Salon. Even when Gautier is a bit severe in commenting his Jupiter and Europa, he concludes : “These two paintings [he also discusses Prometheus – ill. 1], despite their incongruities and oddness, nevertheless maintain a certain masterful air. They give the feeling of having been produced by someone. Being someone in art, is really an achievement.” There are worse ways of criticizing.

2. Panel with the Study of The Young Man and the Death
Paris, Musée Gustave Moreau
Photo : Didier Rykner

3. Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)
Darius Fleeing after the Battle of Arbelles
Oil on panel - 27 x 16 cm
Paris, Musée Gustave Moreau
Photo : Didier Rykner

The exhibition (ill. 2 and 3) is more of an itinerary of selected works, or a scholarly study, since the museum does not have a special room available. It mainly highlights some studies of certain paintings quoted by Gautier, with accompanying extracts from the texts. But the works studied here are a perfect excuse to return to this very pleasant museum and so unlike many of the homogenized presentations seen alas, too often elsewhere.

We conclude with just a word on the Gautier exhibition at the Maison de Balzac. Drawing from its collections (and without a catalogue), the museum highlights Gautier’s personality. Visitors will even be able to enjoy three paintings done by him and some drawings, which definitely prove he was right in choosing a literary rather than an artistic career.

Marie-Cécile Forest, Samuel Mandin, Aurélie Peylhard, Pierre Pinchon, Gustave Moreau – Théophile Gautier. Le rare, le singulier, l’étrange, Editions Musée Gustave Moreau, 2011, 116 p., 15€. ISBN : 9782901425519. The hang starts March 9th but no closing date has been announced.

The exhibition at the Maison de Balzac does not have a catalogue, but Théophile Gautier’s Balzac has been published in a new edition for the occasion :

Théophile Gautier, Balzac, an edition presented by Jean-Luc Steinmetz, postface by Candice Brunerie, Le Castor Astral, 2011, 144 p., 13€. ISBN : 9782859208561. The exhibition runs from 1st March until 29 May 2011.

Didier Rykner, mercredi 9 mars 2011


[1] The criticisms by Judith Gautier and Théophile Gautier, son, on Moreau round out the volume, which also includes a very good essay by Pierre Pinchon.

[2] Placed on deposit in the cathedral of Angoulême in the 19th century, it has not been found but it is known thanks to photographs and an engraving.

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