19th Century European Paintings & Sculpture

19th Century European Paintings & Sculpture

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 836. Hercule et la Biche Aux Pieds d'Airain.

Property from the Collection of Seymour Stein

Gustave Moreau

Hercule et la Biche Aux Pieds d'Airain

Auction Closed

February 2, 09:59 PM GMT


100,000 - 150,000 USD

Lot Details


Property from the Collection of Seymour Stein

Gustave Moreau

French 1826-1898

Hercule et la Biche Aux Pieds d'Airain

signed lower left: Gustave Moreau

watercolour on paper

sheet: 13 by 9 in.; 33 by 23 cm

framed: 27 ⅜ by 23 ¾ in.; 70 by 60.5 cm

Collection of Gustave Duruflé (1834-1909), friend of the artist 

Daniel Wildenstein, Paris

Sale: Paris, Drouot, 31 May 1983, lot 93

Sale: Beaussant Lefebvre, Paris, 16 December 1993, lot 44

Sale: Sotheby's New York, 26 May 1994, lot 75

Collection of Seymour Stein (1942-2023), music executive and founder of Sire Records

Paul Leprieur, Gustave Moreau et son oeuvre, Paris, 1889, p. 36

Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Gustave Moreau, Complete edition of the finished paintings, watercolors and drawings, Oxford, 1977, no. 131, illustrated p. 317

Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Gustave Moreau, monographie et nouveau catalogue de l'oeuvre achevé, Paris, no. 149, illustrated p. 320

Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Exposition Gustave Moreau, 1906, no. 42

Tokyo, Fujikawa Galleries, Moreau-Bourdelle, 1971, exhibition catalogue, no. 11, illustrated

In this watercolor, executed circa 1872, Moreau illustrates the fourth of the twelve labors of the mythological Hercules: to capture a wonderful stag with golden antlers and brazen hoofs, that ranged the hills of Cerynea, between Arcadia and Achaia.

In his student days, Moreau had "...spent long hours in the Bibliothèque Impériale poring over illuminated manuscripts and sets of Persian, Indian and Japanese prints. From this rich store of visual impressions he drew motifs which went to create an imaginary archaeology; combining elements from different periods and religions, he worked out a new iconography of the old myths which mankind had handed down from age to age." (Mathieu, p. 14) Greek mythology captured Moreau's imagination, in particular the tales of Hercules's labors. This hero appears as early as circa 1856 in Moreau's oeuvre in the oil, Hercule enfant étouffant les serpents. Throughout his career, Moreau returned to the story of Hercules to illustrate further episodes of his life in Hercules et les oiseaux du lac Stymphale painted in 1865 and in two watercolors, Hercule au lac Stymphale and Hercule et les oiseaux du lac Stymphale, each executed circa 1872. A small oil circa 1872, of the same title as the present work is also known (Mathieu No. 135, p. 318). The theme of Hercules reappears in two works of the same title Hercule et L'hydre de Lerne both from circa 1876.

Moreau first attracted public attention with the exhibition of his pictures Oedipus and the Sphinx at the Salon de 1864. A Salon critic wrote at that time, "M. Gustave Moreau is the hero of this exhibition, and those critics who are usually never satisfied agree that if the 1864 Salon is saved from discredit, it is only thanks to his Oedipus and the Sphinx...the work of this unknown painter attracts one's attention and holds it irresistibly, no matter what one does." (Robert L. Delevoy, Symbolists and Symbolism, New York, p. 39) Moreau became "...the man of the moment. Aloof, independent, solitary, he yet became fashionable in high society and was taken up in masonic and occult circles...He wished to bury himself in a dream world, in a world peopled with the archetypes of ancient myth..." (Delevoy, p. 40)

In the 1870's Moreau "...turned more and more to watercolors, in which he found scope for the free play of his gifts as a colourist and his powers of invention; ... in his lifetime Moreau was appreciated almost as much for his bold and fluid watercolors as for his paintings, which were often thought to be too elaborate and overloaded..." (Mathieu, p. 14)

It is of note that during his lifetime, Moreau rarely exhibited his pictures or allowed them to be reproduced. He sold works sparingly and with reluctance. "On his death, Moreau bequeathed to the state his house in the Rue de La Rochefoucauld, together with its contents (nearly 1,200 paintings and watercolors...and about 10,000 drawings)". (Mathieu, p. 18) For this reason, watercolors such as the present work appear rarely on the market. The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 also affected Moreau's output during the years of 1870-72. Consequently, "...there are very few works bearing the dates 1870, 1871, or 1872." (Mathieu, p. 116)