Aspects of Gustave Moreau

A Free Public Forum

Gustave Moreau, 'The Apparition', 1874. Musée Gustave Moreau.

Four expert speakers will address different aspects of Gustave Moreau’s art and work. This free public forum is held in conjunction with a major exhibition of his works, Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine, at the NGV International.


  • Dr Ted Gott, National Gallery of Victoria
  • Eugene Barilo von Reisberg, University of Melbourne
  • Lucy Ellem, La Trobe University
  • Angela Hesson, The Johnston Collection

Introduced and convened by Associate Professor Alison Inglis.

Date:  Friday, 8 April 2011 1:30 – 3:30 pm

Venue: Elisabeth Murdoch Lecture Theatre, The University of Melbourne, Parkville.

This event is free. All Welcome.

Enquiries: contact Alison Inglis

Abstracts and Speaker Bios

Angela Hesson ‘Dominance, Dissonance, and Decoration: Gustave Moreau and the feminine fetish’

This paper will explore Moreau’s artistic interventions into questions of femininity and feminisation, and the influence of these interventions upon the artists, writers and designers of the fin de siècle. Moreau’s fascination with the feminine subject, as well as his fetishistic attention to the decorative surface and the ornamental interior, were inextricably entwined with the shifting gender politics of his period. The emergence, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, of a highly aestheticized pantheon of feminine types, including the femme fatale, new woman, lesbian and androgyne, reflected the wilful subversion of idealized associations between femininity and domesticity, and between woman and nature. As the century drew to a close, the relationship between surface and depth, between decoration and Osubstance,’ also came increasingly to be understood in gendered terms. Drawing in particular upon Moreau’s numerous variations upon the theme of Salome, this paper will examine the breadth of Moreau’s influence, and the complex, kaleidoscopic modes of femininity expressed in his work.

Angela Hesson is Assistant Curator at The Johnston Collection and a freelance arts writer. She is in the final stages of an interdisciplinary PhD in the department of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne, where she has also been employed as a lecturer. Her PhD thesis is entitled The Profane Interior: Decadence, Femininity, Fetishism.

Eugene Barilo von Reisberg ‘The Eternal Androgyne: Gustave Moreau’s Saint Sebastian’

This paper stems from my interest in Saint Sebastian, and especially the saint’s iconography during the Long Nineteenth Century’, from 1780 to 1918. I was interested to discover that Gustave Moreau painted at least twelve completed works on the subject of St Sebastian’s martyrdom, not to mention numerous drawings and sketches in various media. The exhibition at the National Gallery – and especially the wide selection of works on paper – assisted me to contextualise images of the saint in the art of Gustave Moreau, and confirm my hypothesis, that for Moreau, Saint Sebastian became an inimitably personal vehicle of artistic self-expression with a multitude of semantic connotations, which I will be exploring in my paper.

Eugene Barilo von Reisberg is a Melbourne-based writer, curator, and arts blogger. His research on works by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1873), a nineteenth-century German-born international court portrait specialist, has gained international recognition, and he is currently working on a PhD thesis on the artist, which investigates the iconographic construct of contemporary aristocratic ideal within Winterhalter’s portraits.

Dr Ted Gott ‘An Embarrassment of Riches: Behind the scenes of Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine’

This paper takes a look behind the scenes of the Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris, an extraordinary museum housing some 20,000 works of art within the confines of the artist’s original nineteenth-century home. The selection of works for the exhibition will be considered, along with some of the difficulties involved in bringing to our shores, and presenting in the best light, the first exhibition of Gustave Moreau’s work to be staged in Australia.

Dr Ted Gott is Senior Curator of International Art, National Gallery of Victoria. He has curated and co-curated numerous exhibitions, most recently Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire (2009). He has published widely on British and French art, his most recent work being on the cultural history of the gorilla in nineteenth and twentieth-century art and cinema.

Lucy Ellem ‘Monstrous and fatal flowers of the abyss” : Gustave Moreau’s Evil Women’

Gustave Moreau’s oeuvre abounds with beautiful but fatal women – sirens, temptresses and seducers. Centering on The Chimaeras, Moreau’s major and most misogynist statement on women, this paper examines Moreau’s feminine universe in the context of his Gnostic beliefs and their influence on his art.

Lucy Ellem is a retired Senior Lecturer in Art History, Latrobe University, where she specialised in 19th century French painting, including teaching Colour in theory and practice 19th to early 20th centuries, and French Symbolism. Her research interests include colour theory, physiognomy and symbolism, on which she has published several papers, including on Gustave Moreau. She continues her association with Latrobe University as an Honorary Research Associate with the History Department.

This event is organised by The Art History program, the University of Melbourne and the Fine Arts Network.