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A Strange Magic: Gustave Moreau’s Salome

  • This is a past exhibition

From September 15 to December 9, 2012, the Hammer Museum will present an exhibition devoted to Gustave Moreau’s Salome Dancing before Herod, one of the most remarkable and best-known paintings in the museum’s collection. The exhibition will include approximately 50 works—including related paintings, drawings, and preparatory studies—drawn entirely from the collection of the Gustave Moreau Museum in Paris. Many of the works have never before been seen in the United States, and the Hammer will be the sole American venue.

The art of Gustave Moreau (1826–1898) stands apart from that of his realist and impressionist contemporaries in nineteenth-century France, particularly in the mystical and enigmatic quality of his paintings of biblical and mythological subjects. He is considered an important precursor to the symbolist and surrealist movements, and his students included Henri Matisse and Georges Rouault. Salome created a sensation when it was exhibited for the first time in Paris at the Salon of 1876 and is arguably Moreau’s most important work. Painted between 1874 and 1876, it depicts the biblical story of the Judaean princess Salome dancing before her stepfather, King Herod, and her mother, Herodias. Moreau’s paintings are rare, particularly in the United States, and the Hammer’s is one of a select group of works in major collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Harvard Art Museums, and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

The Gustave Moreau Museum has the largest collection of works by the artist, with more than 14,000 paintings, drawings, and watercolors by Moreau, all housed in his former residence and studio, which today function as a museum devoted to the artist. The Moreau Museum is maintained as he left it upon his death, when it was given to the French state, and provides a unique glimpse into a working artist’s home and studio. The collection includes a significant number of unfinished paintings, sketches, models, and letters, as well as an extensive archive and library. It includes several dozen preparatory drawings and other works related to Salome, including variant paintings, compositional studies, and individual studies for the various figures, architectural setting, and decorative elements. The exhibition will include five other paintings by Moreau on the theme of Salome, as well as more than 40 drawings specifically related to the Hammer painting.

A Strange Magic: Gustave Moreau’s Salome is organized by the Hammer Museum in collaboration with the Gustave Moreau Museum in Paris and is curated by Cynthia Burlingham, director of the UCLA Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts and deputy director of Curatorial Affairs at the Hammer Museum. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Cynthia Burlingham; Marie-Cécile Forest, the director of the Gustave Moreau Museum; and the artist Richard Hawkins.

A Strange Magic: Gustave Moreau’s Salome is made possible by a major gift from the Armand Hammer Foundation. The exhibition also received generous support from the Ahmanson Foundation and the Robert Lehman Foundation.

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