Gustave Moreau History Painting, Spirituality, and Symbolism Peter Cooke

Publication date:
15 Jul 2014
Yale University Press
252 pages: 279 x 229mm
50 color + 100 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

The acclaimed French painter Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) strove to renew figure painting by creating an unacademic form of 'epic' art. In this thought-provoking book, Peter Cooke explains how Moreau effectively created pictorial Symbolism through his novel approach to the genre of history painting. In the process, the author closely examines the artist through a number of his major paintings, his ideology and aesthetic, and in relation to other artists of his time and of the previous generations. The narrative follows Moreau's career from his Neoclassical and academic training through his conversion to Romanticism, his studies in Italy, his experiences as an exhibitor at the Paris Salon, between 1864 and 1880, and his subsequent years as a professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and as the founder of his own museum. By examining Moreau's critical reception, as well as that of his students, the book shows his controversial effect on the art world of his time, during the Second Empire and Third Republic. Drawing on unpublished manuscripts from the Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris, Cooke presents fresh insights into how Moreau's complex and original art reflects his spiritualist ideology, together with his persistent inner obsessions.

Peter Cooke is a senior lecturer in French studies at the University of Manchester.

‘Peter Cooke’s excellent new monograph […] answers a basic but critical historiographical need. A masterly synthesis representing the culmination of more than two decades of research […] it integrates previously published work with new archival material and fresh lines of argument. The result, well edited and handsomely illustrated, is a lucid and balanced account that advances our understanding of Moreau’s artistic theory and production, even as it offers the non-specialist a compelling overview of his career and legacy.’ – Scott S. Allan, The Burlington Magazine

'This book is an exemplary analysis of a difficult artist whose work has suffered from simplistic characterisations. Moreau is consistently shown to be integrated within and reacting to changing artistic and political circumstances. Cooke provides us with a perfect illustration of history painting’s expansive versatility in the later nineteenth century, which embraces extreme contrasts of narrative texture and technical realisation, and an idiosyncratic array of imagery.’ – Richard Wrigley, The Oxford Art Journal