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  • Gustave Moreau et les arts jumeaux: peinture et littérature au dix-neuvième siècle
  • William J. Berg
Gustave Moreau et les arts jumeaux: peinture et littérature au dix-neuvième siècle. By Peter Cooke . ( Le Romantisme et après en France — Romanticism and after in France, 7). Bern, Peter Lang, 2003. 276 pp. Pb £33.00.

Peter Cooke utilizes the curious case of Gustave Moreau to explore the relationship between painting and literature in nineteenth-century France. Mobilizing a format as unorthodox as his painter-subject's work, Cooke juxtaposes four facets of the complex interplay between the sister arts: literary aspects of Moreau's painting; Moreau's symbolic and pictorial means of transcending the literary; literary transpositions of Moreau's paintings by his contemporaries; and Moreau's literary renditions of his own paintings. Within each of the [End Page 281] book's four parts, Cooke carefully contextualizes a series of artistic issues central to nineteenth-century critical and cultural debates. These issues are subtitled and numbered, yet soldered together into a seamless argument that amounts to an apology for Moreau. In Part 1, Cooke counters critical accusations of literary contamination in Moreau's paintings by establishing the painter's intent to revive the tradition of history painting, albeit in a symbolic, allegorical, and mythological way that eclectically compresses and ultimately suppresses history, and by citing critical acclaim for the strictly pictorial dimensions of Moreau's painting (that is, colour and line). In Part 2, Cooke displays his own virtuosity as an art critic in analyzing both the symbolic and pictorial aspects of Moreau's art in a number of major paintings, renowned for their enigmatic, even impenetrable nature. Cooke contends that Moreau creates a new type of historical painting — plastic, anti-theatrical, and sublime — that fully involves the spectator. In Part 3, Cooke shows his versatility through his analysis of several ekphrastic transpositions of Moreau's paintings into literary works, beginning with Huysman's incorporation of Salomé and the Apparition into his decadent novel A rebours, then comparing three sonnets inspired by Moreau's Galatée by Robert de Montesquiou, Jean Lorrain, and Henri de Régnier (this latter of which Cooke prefers because its double nature parallels that of Moreau's painting), and finally comparing three other sonnets dedicated to Moreau's Hélène by de Montesquiou, Albert Samain, and Théodore de Banville (preferred because he uses techniques proper to poetry to capture those specific to painting). In Part 4, Cooke again musters (and masters) a linguistic and rhetorical approach to analyse Moreau's literary commentaries on his own paintings, first in the notes for his paintings, which become part of the creative transformation of his subject matter; then in descriptions written for his deaf mother; and finally, of greatest interest, in the twenty-nine 'notices' Moreau left in 1897, presumably for the future museum that was to be his legacy and that still exists, fully refurbished a century later, on the rue de la Rochefoucauld in Paris. Like the best of the ekphrastic sonnet writers, Moreau uses properly poetic techniques (phonetic repetition, rhythm, figurative language, and temporality) to parallel, not merely translate, the double nature (pictorial and symbolic) of his paintings, thereby creating a poetic prose not unlike that of Chateaubriand. The first two parts of Cooke's book will be of particular interest to art critics; the final two parts to literary critics; the entire unique and well-documented book to those interested in the fascinating relationship between the sister arts.

William J. Berg
University of Wisconsin-Madison


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pp. 281-282
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