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Drawing - Costume design for a dancer in the opera Sapho
  • Costume design for a dancer in the opera Sapho
    Moreau, Gustave, born 1826 - died 1897
  • Enlarge image

Costume design for a dancer in the opera Sapho

  • Object:

    Drawing

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1883 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Moreau, Gustave, born 1826 - died 1897 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pencil on paper

  • Museum number:

    E.49-1968

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, box DT21B

This drawing in pencil is part of a series of costume designs for the première danseuse in Gounod's 1884 revival of the opera Sapho. The dancer is poised en pointe; her elaborately bejewelled costume and headdress are clearly influenced by Orientalist painting. Moreau was a highly original artist who focused on energetic eveluations of mythical and religious scenes. His works are often seen as a bridge to the Symbolist movement.

Physical description

A costume design, drawn in pencil, for the première danseuse in Gounod's opera Sapho. The dancer is poised en pointe; her elaborately bejewelled costume and headdress are clearly influenced by Orientalist painting.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)

Date

ca. 1883 (made)

Artist/maker

Moreau, Gustave, born 1826 - died 1897 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Pencil on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'GM'
Signed by the artist in pencil

'1er Danseuse. Melle Subra. Op

Dimensions

Height: 12.25 in, Width: 6.75 in

Historical context note

This drawing depicts in pencil the Greek poetess, Sapho, dancing. Signed, ‘GM’ and inscribed, ‘lere Danseuse. Melle Subra. Opéra de Sapho’, it was to serve in part as a costume design portraying Mademoiselle Subra, the dancing star of the Paris Opera Company. Mademoiselle Subra may have performed Sapho at the 1884 revival of Charles Gounod’s opera, Sapho, at the Paris Opera (Palais Garnier). François Pierre Régnier, the Opera manager, asked Moreau to design the costumes for the production. However, the designs were eventually sold at a benefit for the widow of a former director, having not been utilized for unknown reasons.

The dancer’s elaborate dress was undoubedtly influenced by orientalist tastes. Moreau often used outside visual sources containing what was seen as new and exotic material; for further evidence of this see Sappho, also in the V&A’s collection ( P.11-1934), which shows her in a Japanese kimono inspired by popular prints being sold in Paris at the time.

The figure of Sappho reccurs many times in Moreau’s oeuvre and in particlular the artist re-worked her pose in several works. For instance, the dancer’s mood and stance are related to that of Salomé, in the oil paintings Salomé Dancing before Herod (Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris), and to the body of Apollo in Apollo victorious over the serpent Python, 1885, (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa). Also reminiscent is the watercolour L'Apparition (Musée du Louvre, Paris), which Moreau exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1876, and a drawing of Salomé (Jean Ehrmann collection). In addition, two oil sketches representing Salomé, L'Apparition (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard) and Salomé Tatouée (Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris), are akin to the costume design.

Descriptive line

Gustave Moreau, Costume design for a dancer in the opera Sapho
French School

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Victoria and Albert Museum Department of Prints and Drawings and Department of Paintings Accessions 1968 London: HMSO, 1969
Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre achevé, Fribourg, 1976, pl. 315, p. 334.
Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Gustave Moreau Monographie et Nouveau Catalogue de l’oeuvre achevé, Paris, 1998, pl. 353, p. 388.
Rachel Sloan, 'Gustave Moreau and the Raffalovich family: new documents on Sappho', The Burlington Magazine CXLVIII (May 2006), p. 330.

Materials

Pencil; Paper

Techniques

Drawing

Categories

Drawings; Designs

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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