American University
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The Gustave Moreau Museum: Exhibiting Individuality

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posted on 2023-09-07, 05:10 authored by Elizabeth Cowgill

This thesis analyzes the Musée national Gustave Moreau, a museum located in the artist’s (1826-1898) former home/studio on 14 rue de la Rochefoucauld in Paris’s 9th arrondissement. This formerly private space has become a public museum displaying both Moreau’s art— thousands of oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and sculptures—and personal, everyday objects belonging to the artist. The museum originally was created according to Moreau’s own stipulation, in the years preceding his death, that the building’s top two floors, which comprised the artist’s studio, be opened to the public. When the museum opened as a state-run institution in 1903, Moreau’s wishes were honored. In 1991, the museum’s then-director, Geneviève Lacambre, decided to make the residential first floor public as well.The existing scholarly literature on the Musée Gustave Moreau treats it as an anomalous institution, attributing its unusual, intensely monographic format to the peculiar wishes of the sensitive, reclusive artist. While acknowledging that the museum is in some ways unique, I situate Moreau’s plans for the museum in the context of developments in nineteenth-century exhibition practices that increasingly emphasized the artist’s individuality. Through a socio- historical interpretation, I link the museum to broader trends in the Parisian art world of Moreau’s day. Economic shifts that made the art market increasingly competitive during the final decades of the nineteenth century necessitated that artists distinguish or “brand” both their art and their identity. This emphasis on the artist’s unique persona intensified and crystallized in the Symbolist concept of the artist-genius: a visionary, often reclusive figure whose intense psychological state bordered on “madness.”Drawing upon this trope, Moreau cultivated public interest in his home/studio. The artist shielded both himself and his work from curious eyes, closing his studio off to all but his most active patrons while welcoming personal visitors into his first-floor residence. This market strategy extended into Moreau’s afterlife with the opening of the museum, when he closed the first floor but opened the studio floors to public view. That studio space, which contains a dazzling display of large-scale, fantastical works, inculcates an experience of awe and mystery. The 1991 opening of the first floor essentially extended this attempt to inspire reverence, as these rooms evoke for visitors a sense of intimacy and proximity to the artist-genius.





Bellow, Juliet; Peng, Ying-Chen


Degree Awarded: M.A. Art. American University


Degree grantor

American University. Department of Art

Degree level

  • Masters

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