Detail of "Allegory of Fable" (full painting below)

Gustave Moreau: The Fables
Waddesdon Manor
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England
Through October 17, 2021

On view at Waddesdon Manor are major works by Gustave Moreau (1826–1898). In the late 1870s, the great French Symbolist was commissioned by the collector Antony Roux to create 64 watercolors illustrating the 17th-century Fables of Jean de La Fontaine.

The results were exhibited to acclaim, with one commentator enthusing that Moreau “was a jeweler before he was a painter and who, drunk on color, had ground up rubies, sapphires, emeralds, topazes, pearls and mother-of-pearl to make his palette.”

Mixed media fine art painting of a woman on a beast
Gustave Moreau (1826–1898), “Allegory of Fable,” 1879, watercolor and gouache with gold metallic paint on paper, 11 1/2 x 9 1/8 in., private collection

The series was acquired by a member of the Rothschild banking dynasty, but nearly half was lost during the Nazi era, when this Jewish family was persecuted.

Now the surviving 34 watercolors are on display, unseen in public since 1906 and complemented by additional loans from the Musée National Gustave Moreau in Paris.

Waddesdon is a logical place to show these treasures because it was built late in the 19th century by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the style of a 16th-century château to showcase his collection of 18th-century furniture, porcelain, and portraits.

In 1957 the estate was bequeathed to the National Trust, though the Rothschilds still run it through a charitable trust. The project has been organized by Waddesdon curator Juliet Carey, whose accompanying book has been published by Paul Holberton (London).

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