The eye of the collector by Jean-luc Ferrand

«Orpheus», oil on canvas signed «L. Brousse d’après Gustave Moreau» 1898

Thursday 4 May 2017, by Barbara Cogollos

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This perfect reproduction of the famous oil on wood of Gustave Moreau preserved in the Musée d’Orsay, is the work of LEON EUGENE JEAN BROUSSE (1857-1913) and is dated on the chassis 14 December 1898, about six months after the death of the pioneer of symbolism.
Far from realism and naturalism, this cultural movement, whose manifesto was published by Jean Moréas in Le Figaro in 1886, wishes to escape the rationalist thought imposed in all the European countries at the end of the nineteenth century.

At that time, LEON BROUSSE was educated at the School of Fine Arts in Paris with Alexandre Cabanel, an academic painter of the Second Empire. Since 1881, Brousse regularly exhibited his works at the Salon de Paris; rare privilege, the national archives retain the traces of registration and purchase of a painting made by him in 1891-1892 for the French Embassy in St. Petersburg, representing the Emperor Peter the Great according to the model of Nattier preserved in Versailles. Gone back to Perpignan, his home town, about 1885, LEON BROUSSE received a commission in 1899 for the meeting room of the Town Hall of Perpignan, for a monumental composition reproducing the Rouget de l’Isle singing the Marseillaise at Dietrich of Isidore Pils, currently preserved in the Historical Museum of Strasbourg. A proof of his great reputation, he was rewarded the same year for the title of Officer of Academy, future «ordre des palmes academiques».

Drawn from Greek mythology, Gustave Moreau’s painting evokes the poetic genius of Orpheus whose music had the power to charm even wild beasts. Despaired by death and the final loss of Eurydice, Orpheus refuses all contacts with women. The hero is then torn to pieces by Thracian Maenads, after having seduced them by his music and having rejected their advances.
Greek and Latin literature tells us that the relics of Orpheus were transported by the waves of the sea to the coasts of the island of Lesbos; Moreau creates another epilogue and writes it to explain his painting: « A young girl piously collects the head of Orpheus and his lyre carried by the river Evros to the shores of Thrace. »

In a desert and frozen landscape borrowed from the models of Leonardo da Vinci, a young girl, dressed in the oriental style, keeps in her hands the red tortoiseshell on which the poet’s head is placed. She looks at it with compassion, while, behind her, tree people on the top of a mountain, the Rhodope, play flutes and prolong the musical atmosphere of the scene. At her feet, on the right, two tortoises (Orpheus and Eurydice?), a symbol linked to Venus and love, whose shell was used by Mercury to create the lyre.

Exhibited at the Salon of 1865, the Orphée by G. Moreau was acquired by the State for the Musée des Artistes Vivants, located in the palace of Luxembourg. Until the opening of the G. Moreau Museum in 1903, it is the only major painting of the artist permanently visible in Paris. It is at this time that LEON BROUSSE copies the painting while keeping the exact measurements of the original.
In excellent condition, the work is enriched with a beautiful gilded frame restoring all the majesty of the composition.

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