09
Dec
10

Exhibition: ‘Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 10th December 2010 – 10th April 2011

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A small but perfectly formed exhibition of the works of the French Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau at the National Gallery of Victoria. The delight is in the detail: the dark, intense neo-classical paintings on biblical and mythological themes reward close scrutiny and contemplation. I purposefully chose to photograph the details at the media launch for the joys they reveal: the flashes of purple, red and turquoise paint to the right in Delilah (nd, see below) and the almost etched quality of the columns and their symbols behind Salomé and John the Baptist’s head in The apparition (nd, see below). Please ENLARGE the photographs by clicking on them to see the detail.

Other important events to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the National Gallery of Victoria next year include major exhibitions such as ManStyle (March – October/November 2011 at both St Kilda Road and Federation Square venues) that will feature an exploration of the dandy in men’s fashion from the 18th century to the present day. I have lent the NGV a 1940s suit and tie from my collection for the exhibition so I am excited to see how they display. Also feted for next year is the major Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition Vienna: Arts & Design: Klimt, Schiele, Hoffmann, Loos (June – October 2011) as well as a large Eugene von Guérard: Nature Revealed exhibition (April  – August 2011) and several photographic exhibitions including the intriguing Deep Water (April – September 2011) that will include photographs of water and its environment divided into fresh and saltwater sections.

The best news is the creation of two new contemporary exhibiting spaces – one in St Kilda Road (the old gallery that housed Greecian pottery on the ground floor) and the former restaurant next to the bookshop in the atrium of Federation Square. Both spaces will have their own entry, one off the atrium and the other off the space near the spire allowing them to be open late at night without the larger gallery being open and they will exhibition small contemporary exhibitions. An excellent proactive idea!

As always many thankx to Sue Coffey, Alison Murray, Jemma Altmeier and the media team at the NGV for their help and to the curator of the exhibition Dr Ted Gott for his friendship and erudite conversation. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria. All rights reserved. No reproduction without the permission of the author and the National Gallery of Victoria.

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Woman looking at Gustave Moreau. ‘Jupiter and Europa’ 1868

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Gustave Moreau
‘Jupiter and Europa’ (detail)
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Gustave Moreau
‘Jupiter and Europa’ (detail)
1868

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Gustave Moreau
‘The Sirens’ (detail)
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Gustave Moreau
‘The Sirens’ (detail)
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Gustave Moreau
‘Helen on the Walls of Troy’ (detail)
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“Be seduced by femmes fatales, goddesses and temptresses of history and legend at the NGV this summer in Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine, the first significant exhibition of Gustave Moreau (1826–1898) to be seen in Australia. The superb craftsmanship of Gustave Moreau will be celebrated with over 100 paintings, watercolours and drawings from the unique and acclaimed Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris. Gerard Vaughan, Director, NGV said this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Australians to see these captivating works by Moreau.

“Visitors will embrace Moreau’s portrayals of familiar historical and mythical characters. From famed femmes fatales including Salomé, Helen of Troy and Lady Macbeth to the rugged depictions of Hercules and the Cyclops, this spectacular exhibition will reveal the many faces of Gustave Moreau.

Moreau’s pictures are amongst the most haunting and mysterious of the entire 19th century, and ironically are incredibly modern.  This is a must see exhibition!” said Dr Vaughan.

Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine will explore the artist’s obsession with the female form, taking visitors on a voyage from classical antiquity and the ancient Far East, to Christianity’s more lurid escapades and epic narratives of the Middle Ages.

Ted Gott, Senior Curator, International Art, NGV said: “Throughout his life Moreau was both entranced by female beauty and captivated by the allure of powerful, even dangerous women from the pages of history and legend, making him a cult figure for today’s younger generation who are spellbound by gothic tales and imagery.

Moreau’s fascination with heroines and queens, goddesses and temptresses were screens through which he could filter his explorations of the key themes of the Eternal Feminine: obsession, dream, luxury, magic, the femme fatale, exoticism and the ideal,” said Dr Gott.

A highlight of the exhibition will be a section devoted to Moreau’s most celebrated and intriguing obsession – the story of Salomé and the beheading of John the Baptist. Salomé is often depicted as an icon of dangerous female seductiveness and in this famous tale, her stepfather Herod requests Salomé to dance for him on his birthday in exchange for anything she desires. Salomé dances and then orders the beheading of John the Baptist who was in prison at the time for criticising the marriage of her mother, Herodias and stepfather Herod.

During his youth, Moreau was obsessed with Italian art of the 14th and 15th centuries, and with narratives drawn from the classical past.  This exhibition will feature the tales and tribulations of well known characters from history – both real and mythological – including Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Messalina, Lady Macbeth, Samson and Delilah, Galatea, Sappho and Salomé.

Whilst many of Moreau’s works are filled with mythical female characters, in life he was surrounded by two key female figures: his mother and his girlfriend, Alexandrine Dureux. Moreau lived with his mother until her passing in 1884, while Dureux lived nearby. After Dureux’s death in 1890, Moreau transformed his family home into a museum, creating massive ateliers for the display of more than 5,000 of his own works of art, as well as dedicating rooms to his father, his mother and Alexandrine Dureux. Left to the French nation in Moreau’s will in 1898 and officially opened to the public in 1903, the Musée Gustave Moreau remains one of the world’s most unique and extraordinary single-artist museums.

Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine is on display at NGV International, St Kilda Road from 10 December 2010 to 10 April 2011. NGV International is open 10am–5pm, closed Tuesdays. Admission fees apply: Adult $15 / Concession $12 / Child $7.50 / Family $42.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria website

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Gustave Moreau
‘Delilah’ (detail)
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Gustave Moreau
‘The apparition’ (detail)
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Gustave Moreau
‘The apparition’ (detail)
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Gustave Moreau
‘Beheading of John the Baptist’ (detail)
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Installation photograph with, at left, ‘The Unicorns’ (nd) and ‘Fairy with Griffons’ (nd) second from right

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Gustave Moreau
‘Fairy with Griffons’ (detail)
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Gustave Moreau
‘Fairy with Griffons’ (detail)
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Gustave Moreau
‘The Unicorns’ (detail)
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Gustave Moreau
‘The Unicorns’ (detail)
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NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours
10am – 5pm. Closed Tuesdays.

National Gallery of Victoria website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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