Orpheus (1865) by Gustave Moreau

Orpheus - Gustave Moreau - 1865

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Artwork Information

ArtistGustave Moreau
MediumOil on Canvas
Dimensions99.5 x 154 cm
Art MovementSymbolism
Current LocationMusée d'Orsay, Paris

About Orpheus

The artwork titled “Orpheus” is an oil on canvas by the artist Gustave Moreau, created in the year 1865. It is an exemplar of the Symbolism art movement, with dimensions measuring 99.5 x 154 cm. This mythological painting is housed at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

The artwork captures a poignant scene from ancient mythology. In the forefront is a sole female figure, elegantly attired in historical garb, with intricate patterns and textures that exhibit Moreau’s attention to detail. She stands in a state of mournful repose, holding before her the lifeless head of Orpheus, the legendary poet and musician who, per myth, could enchant all living things with his music. The head of Orpheus is gently cradled in her arms, evoking a profound sense of loss and resignation. The lyre, the instrument emblematic of Orpheus’s musical prowess, is notable in the woman’s grasp, resting against the body without song.

In the background, we observe the hazy silhouette of a rocky landscape, suggesting an otherworldly or liminal space. The sky, diffused with light, imbues the scene with a somber yet ethereal quality, heightening the painting’s overall mood of lamentation and the transcendental. This juxtaposition of dynamic, yet serene mythological narrative with the Symbolist sensibilities helps to imbue the artwork with a sense of mythological depth and a meditation on the human condition. Two small turtles are visible at the foot of the woman, perhaps symbolic elements to underscore the themes of slowness or the earthbound nature of existence contrasting with spiritual transcendence or Orpheus’s quasi-divine talent. The composition of the painting, coupled with the emotional intensity of the figures, offers a deep exploration of the themes of love, tragedy, and the power of art.

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