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Gustave Moreau: The Fables

June 16 - October 17

Allegory of fable (detail)

Waddesdon Manor will host Gustave Moreau: The Fables from 16 June to 17 October, 2021.

Gustave Moreau (1826-98) is one of the most brilliant and influential artists associated with the French Symbolist movement, and this exhibition reveals some of the most extraordinary works he ever made, unseen in public for over a century.

Gustave Moreau: The Fables

In collaboration with the Rothschild family and Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, the exhibition will reveal 34 watercolours, created by Moreau between 1879 and 1885, for the first time since 1906. They were part of a series commissioned by the art collector Antony Roux to illustrate the 17th-century Fables of Jean de La Fontaine. The works are on loan from a Rothschild family collection.

The watercolours were exhibited to great acclaim in the 1880s – in Paris and in London, where critics frequently compared the artist to Edward Burne-Jones. Moreau made 64 works for the series, 63 of which subsequently entered the collection of Miriam Alexandrine de Rothschild (1884-1965); however, nearly half were lost during the Nazi era. The surviving works have not been exhibited since 1906 and only a handful has ever been published in colour.

Jupiter and the Thunderbolts (detail)
Jupiter and the Thunderbolts (detail)

Created at the height of the French 19th-century revival of watercolour, the variety of subject matter, technique and their colouristic effects will be a revelation to visitors. One early commentator wrote that it was as though their creator ‘was a jeweller before he was a painter and who, drunk on colour, had ground up rubies, sapphires, emeralds, topazes, pearls and mother-of-pearl to make his palette.’

While many of La Fontaine’s fables will be familiar to British audiences from Aesop’s fables, others are derived from traditional European and Asian stories. Moreau’s translation of La Fontaine’s pithy, canonical work into his own, highly distinctive visual language will surprise and delight. There are scenes of comedy, satire and tragedy, and the stylistic range of the watercolours encompasses historicism and the picturesque, Orientalist fantasies and near-abstract chromatic experiments.

Visitors will enjoy spotting the influence of earlier artists, among them Leonardo da Vinci, Turner, Delacroix, Gericault and Hokusai. British critics in the 1880s praised the series; one described the works as full of ‘witchery and enchantment’; another commented on Moreau’s ‘keen apprehension of the weird’.

Moreau and Waddesdon Manor

This exhibition in Waddesdon Manor, the home of the Rothschild Collection, will celebrate wider Rothschild links with Moreau, with the display of another little-known watercolour by the artist, which was acquired by Baron Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934), the father of Miriam Alexandrine, who owned the Fables watercolours, and also of James de Rothschild (1878-1957), who inherited a third of his father’s collection and bequeathed Waddesdon to the National Trust.

Discover more about the events at Waddesdon Manor here.

The frogs asking for a king (detail)
The frogs asking for a king (detail)

Gustave Moreau: The Fables is curated by Dr Juliet Carey, Senior Curator Waddesdon Manor.

“I still remember the excitement of looking at Moreau’s Fables watercolours for the first time, knowing that they had not been seen in public for over a hundred years and I am thrilled that visitors to Waddesdon will experience something similar,” she says. “It is wonderfully appropriate that this exhibition is happening at Waddesdon, a place with strong links to the artist and a treasure trove of French art. There are few works by Moreau in British public collections, so these superlative examples will be a revelation.”

Gustave Moreau: The Fables, by Juliet Carey and published by Paul Holberton will accompany the exhibition (£25). Hardback, 160 pages, 100 colour illustrations, ISBN: 978-1-911300-86-1

Book a Ticket for Gustave Moreau: The Fables

Tickets cost : Adult £5, house and grounds admission applies. You can book a ticket for the exhibition here.

For more information on Waddesdon and its exhibitions

Visit Main image: Allegory of fable (detail).



June 16
October 17
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Waddesdon Manor
Aylesbury,BuckinghamshireHP18 0JHUnited Kingdom+ Google Map