Even for those of us who are not particularly fascinated by Symbolist painting in general or Gustave Moreau in particular, his house in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, now the Musée National Gustave Moreau, is well worth a visit. I especially liked the moment when I walked up the stairs from his cramped first floor apartment and came out into the huge airy studio on the second floor (i.e. two flights up).
It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer masses of large paintings in the second and third floor studios, covering nearly every square centimeter of wall space. Moreau was certainly a prolific painter, even though he had periods when he was in distress and couldn’t paint, for instance after the death of his mother.
Here are two of Moreau’s paintings of Jupiter and Sémélé. The one on the right is the most famous one, I believe. In both of these, the mortal woman Sémélé is tiny and naked and also dead, having been struck by lightning when the god Jupiter showed himself in his divine splendor. Jupiter himself looks strangely expressionless and seems preoccupied with symbolizing whatever he is supposed to be symbolizing, although he must realize that that the death of his lover Sémélé was provoked by his jealous wife, the goddess Juno.
I have the impression that most of the women in Moreau’s paintings are small and naked (some dead, some not), and that the men and male gods pay little attention to them.
Apparently the large studios on the second and third floors were not created (in their current form) until 1895, when Moreau had the house completely rearranged so it could serve as a museum after his death. He died three years later in 1898.
The apartment on the first floor (one flight up from the ground floor) is where Gustave Moreau lived with his parents starting in 1852, when he was 26 years old.
The museum’s website says that after the house was rearranged in 1895 the apartment “bore no resemblance to the apartment Gustave Moreau’s parents had lived in; it was now a truly symbolic arrangement orchestrated by the artist around his own memories and those of his friends and family. It was designed for eternity, not for daily life.”
In 1895 Gustave Moreau’s old bedroom was turned into “a boudoir for the memorabilia of Alexandrine Dureux, his friend who had died prematurely, and whose furniture he had bought.”
He had met Alexandrine Dureux in 1859. For over thirty years, until her death in 1890, she remained his “best and only friend”, though their relationship seems to have been entirely platonic.
The address of the Musée National Gustave Moreau is 14 rue de La Rochefoucauld, 75009 Paris. This is just a short walk (6 blocks, 6 minutes on foot) from the Musée de la Vie Romantique in the former home of the family Scheffer-Renan at 16 rue Chaptal.
To take things in chronological order, it would make sense to visit the Romantique museum first, since it deals mainly with the generation before Gustave Moreau — the ‘Romantic’ generation as opposed to the ‘Symbolist’ generation.
The two families were not only neighbors. Ary Renan (1857-1900), the son of the scholar and philosopher Ernest Renan, was a Symbolist painter who became a close friend and the first biographer of Gustave Moreau.
Location, aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr.
My photos and text in this post are from 2018.
See also: Musée de la Vie Romantique.