European Art: Paintings & Sculpture

European Art: Paintings & Sculpture

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 50. GUSTAVE MOREAU | LÉDA, LE CYGNE, ET L'AMOUR.

Property of a Gentleman


This lot has been withdrawn

Lot Details


Property of a Gentleman



1826 - 1898


signed -Gustave Moreau.- lower left

oil on panel

unframed: 25.5 by 17cm., 10 by 6¾in.

framed: 36.5 by 28.5cm., 14 by 11in.

Please note: Condition 11 of the Conditions of Business for Buyers (Online Only) is not applicable to this lot.

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Paul Tesse (with a wax seal 'PT' visible on the reverse; his sale: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 11 March 1876, lot 40)

John Saulnier, Bordeaux (his sale: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 5 June 1886, lot 67)

Charles Hayem, 1889

Louis Mante (by 1906; his sale: Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 28 November 1956, lot 9)

Sale: Christie's, Paris, 15 April 2013, lot 82

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner

Paul Leprieur, Gustave Moreau, et son oeuvre, 1889, p. 446

Paul Flat, 'Gustave Moreau', in La Revue de l'Art ancien et moderne, 10 March 1898, p. 232

Georges Rouault, 'Gustave Moreau', in L'Art et les Artistes, April 1926, p. 242, illustrated

Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Gustave Moreau, sa vie, son oeuvre, catalogue raisonnée de l'oeuvre achevé, Paris, 1976, p. 313, no. 145, catalogued & illustrated

Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Gustave Moreau, Monographie et nouveau catalogue de l'oeuvre achevé, Paris, 1998, no. 166, catalogued & illustrated (as Léda, Le Cygne et l'Amour; location untraced)

Painted circa 1875, the present work depicts the moment in Greek mythology when Leda, wife of the King of Sparta, is seduced by Zeus - who, in the guise of a swan, has fallen into her arms to seek shelter from an attacking eagle. The myth inspired Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and many lesser-known artists and sculptors. As he did with Salome or Helen of Troy, Moreau took an established female protagonist and made the subject his own, infusing his compositions with erotic narrative and a distinctive dream-like, sensual aesthetic.

Moreau first painted the myth of Leda and the swan in 1846, in an unfinished, large oil on canvas measuring 220 by 205cm in the Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris (fig. 1). The scene's inspiration is more classical and differs markedly from his mature style, curiously blending the Leda myth with Christian imagery by setting the halo behind the bird's head and putti carry forth a crown. In addition to the present work, Mathieu records two other different approaches to the subject of equivalent date: a watercolour en camaïeu (monochrome) measuring 21 by 12cm in the collection of the Musée Gustave Moreau (fig. 2), and an oil of 32 by 23cm in a private collection.

A slightly later version in watercolour painted circa 1882, measuring 34.2 by 22.2cm, was sold at Sotheby's New York on 4 November 2011 (fig. 3). Both that and the present work are distinguished by their particularly powerful compositions, with their symmetry between Leda and the swan converging in a V-shape near the centre of the composition. Indeed the effect is heightened further in the present work by Moreau's close cropping of the composition around the figures. In addition, the artist continues the diagonal of the swan's wings by adding the putto crouching behind Leda, his saucy gaze looking up and to the right.

As Moreau explained, 'beside that of the chosen woman, [the swan] endows her with his whiteness and divinity. Dreamlike and attentive, Leda remains motionless under the divine spell. Hers is the august slumber preceding transfigurations. Utterly graceful in her power and force, she is a white camellia beneath the white lily' (as quoted in Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Gustave Moreau, Paris, 1994, p 119).

The overall sensuality of the scene may have had personal resonance for the artist. Along with the tales of Andromeda, Paisphae, and Sappho, Leda and the Swan was one of the mythological subjects Moreau created as gifts for Adélaïde Alexandrine Dureux. While somewhat shrouded in mystery, Moreau and Dureux's relationship, which spanned over thirty years, was built upon a deep friendship — and likely a private romance. In 1886, Moreau expressed his desire that "at my last hour [Dureux's] hand be clasped in mine and we be left alone together (as quoted in Mathieu, p. 160).