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Gustave Moreau. Salome Dancing before Herod, 1874-76. Oil on canvas; 56 1/2 x 41 1/16 in. (143.5 x 104.3 cm). The Armand Hammer Collection; Gift of the Armand Hammer Foundation, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- This fall the Hammer Museum presents A Strange Magic: Gustave Moreau’s Salome, an exhibition devoted to Gustave Moreau’s painting Salome Dancing before Herod, one of the best-known works of art in the museum’s Armand Hammer Collection. The exhibition includes approximately 50 works to accompany the Hammer’s painting —including related paintings, drawings, and preparatory studies—drawn entirely from the collection of the Gustave Moreau Museum in Paris, many of which have never before been seen in the United States. 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 Hammer is the sole American venue for the exhibition.

This exhibition presents a rare opportunity for a close, in-depth study of what many consider to be one of Moreau’s greatest paintings,” remarks Cynthia Burlingham. “The work accompanying the Hammer’s painting reveals key aspects of the artist’s process and invites a more intimate and nuanced understanding of this great French master.”

Gustave Moreau (1826–1898) stands apart from his Realist and Impressionist contemporaries in nineteenth-century France, particularly in the mystical and enigmatic qualities that characterize his paintings of biblical and mythological subjects. Painted between 1874 and 1876, Salome Dancing before Herod 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. The story of the daughter of Herodias, whose seductive dance before her stepfather and uncle, Herod, persuaded the aging king to grant her the head of John the Baptist, is derived from two passages in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Salome danced at the behest of her mother Herodias, who wanted to silence John the Baptist from railing against her incestuous marriage to Herod, the brother of her murdered husband.

A favorite subject among many artists of the time, the story occupied Moreau for decades. His highly original treatment of the subject—with its dramatic atmosphere, jewel-like colors, and fantastic architectural setting—aimed to infuse new life into the grand tradition of history painting. Salome Dancing before Herod was celebrated by many artists and writers associated with the Symbolist movement, including Odilon Redon, Marcel Proust, and especially Joris-Karl Huysmans, who included an enthusiastic description of the painting in his influential 1884 novel Against the Grain.  

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Gustave Moreau. Salome Dancing before Herod (detail), 1874-76. Oil on canvas; 56 1/2 x 41 1/16 in. (143.5 x 104.3 cm). The Armand Hammer Collection; Gift of the Armand Hammer Foundation, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.

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Gustave Moreau. Salome Dancing, known as Salome Tattooed, 1874. Oil on canvas; 36 ¼ x 23 2/3 in. (92 x 60 cm). Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris. Photo: René-Gabriel Ojéda ©Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY.

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Gustave Moreau. Salome Dancing. Graphite ; 5 1/16 x 4 5/16 in. (12.9 x 10.9 cm). Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris. Photo: Tony Querrec ©Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY

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Gustave Moreau, Study for Salome Dancing before Herod. Pen and brown ink; 6 5/16 x 4 1/3 in. (16 x 11 cm). Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris. Photo: René-Gabriel Ojéda ©Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY

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Gustave Moreau, Study for Salome Dancing before Herod. Black chalk; 3 9/16 x 2 ½ in. (9.1 x 6.5 cm). Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris. Photo: René-Gabriel Ojéda ©Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY

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Gustave Moreau, Nude Female Model for Salome (Study for Salome Dancing before Herod). Black chalk on yellow paper; 14 ¾ x 22 11/16 in. (37.4 x 22.1 cm). Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris. Photo: Tony Querrec ©Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY

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Gustave Moreau, Herod (Study for Salome Dancing before Herod). Graphite, squared for transfer; 7 7/16 x 5 1/8 in. (18.9 x 13 cm). Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris. Photo: René-Gabriel Ojéda ©Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY

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Gustave Moreau, Study for Salome. Pen and brown ink, black chalk, graphite, and charcoal on tracing paper; 13 7/8 x 9 1/16 in. (35.3 x 22.9 cm). Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris. Photo: René-Gabriel Ojéda ©Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY