Lot 327
  • 327

Gustave Moreau

275,000 - 350,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Gustave Moreau
  • la licorne
  • signed Gustave Moreau lower left
  • oil on canvas
  • 50 by 34.5cm., 19¾ by 13½in.


Adrien Marx (commissioned from the artist)
Baillehache Collection (purchased in 1898)
Louis Mante
Sale: Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Vente Mante, 28 November 1956, lot 8, as Dame à la Licorne
Comtesse de Casteja
Sale: Paris, Hôtel Drouot, Tableaux anciens et du XIXe siècle appartenant à la comtesse de Castéja, 20 October 1983, lot 21
Acquired by the present owner in 1996


Paris, 1906, no. 77 (Collection Louis Mante)


G. Desvallières, L'oeuvre de Gustave Moreau, Paris, 1913, no. 21, illustrated
R. von Holten & J.J. Pauvert, L'art fantastique de Gustave Moreau, 1960, no. 25, illustrated
Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: Complete edition of the finished paintings, watercolours and drawings, Paris, 1976, p. 347, no. 330, illustrated
Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Gustave Moreau, Paris, 1991, no. 227, p. 103, illustrated
Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Gustave Moreau, Paris-New York, 1994, p. 165
Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: L'assembleur des reves, Paris, 1998, p. 130
Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: Monographie et Nouveau catalogue de l'oeuvre achevé, Paris, 1998, pp. 181 & 393, no. 370, illustrated



This condition report has been provided by Hamish Dewar, Hamish Dewar Ltd. Fine Art Conservation, 14 Masons Yard, Duke Street, St James's, London SW1Y 6BU. Structural Condition The canvas has been lined and this is providing a stable and secure structural support. Paint Surface The paint surface has an even varnish layer and the retouchings that have been applied are only visible under ultra-violet light. Inspection under ultra-violet light shows a number of small, scattered retouchings, the most significant of which are: 1. fine hairline retouchings in the sky, of which there are quite a number, 2. small scattered spots and lines in the dark green foliage, 3. a horizontal line on the girl's right breast and an area on her jaw and neck, small scattered spots and lines on the unicorn and on the girl's flesh tones and more concentrated retouchings on her left leg below the knee, and on both feet. There are other small scattered retouchings but it should be stressed that most of these are very small and all have been carefully applied. Summary The painting therefore appears to be in good and stable condition and no further work is required.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Painted circa 1885, in the present work a young pubescent girl, naked but for a regal red cape and wondrous be-crowned beret, strokes the head of a unicorn that sits docilely by her side. A symbol of both strength and purity as well as man's submissiveness to woman, according to legend only virgins were able to approach unicorns.

Moreau's interest in the subject was inspired by the medieval tapestries of unicorns in the Musée de Cluny, in particular the fifteenth century Tenture de la Dame à la licorne: Le Toucher, acquired by the museum in 1882. Moreau incorporated the form of the unicorn into Le lion amoreux, one of his illustrations for the fables of La Fontaine, and further developed the theme in another oil Les Licornes of 1885-90 (fig. 1). Moreau intended La Licorne to be the pendant to La Chimère (fig. 2), the purity of the former contrasting with the corrupt femme fatale symbolism of the latter.

While Moreau's training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts was deeply rooted in the academic tradition, he quickly distinguished himself as a visionary who boldly stepped across the boundaries of traditional painting to embrace the artistic ideals of the Romantic and Symbolist movements. Standing at the crossroads between academic and avant-garde painting, his works are a highly sophisticated and complex synthesis of divergent styles that encompass a diverse repertoire of subjects.

According to Douglas Druick, 'Moreau explored the theme of humankind's potential for good and evil, enlightenment and chaos, employing symbolic contrasts between light and dark, beauty and monstrosity... Moreau wedded the insights of ancient myths with those of Darwinist explanation to convey the epic battle between the body's basest passions and the soul's loftiest aspirations.' (Genevieve Lacambre, Larry Feinberg, Marie Laure de Contenson & Douglas Druick, Gustave Moreau, Between Epic and Dream, 1999, p. 36).

Fig. 1: Gustave Moreau, Les Licornes, 1885-90, Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris

Fig. 2: Gustave Moreau, La Chimère, 1867, Private Collection