Adrien Moreau (1843 - 1906)
The artist M. Adrien Moreau, though still young, has already won his artistic spurs, his canvases being hors concours in the Salon Exhibitions. A pupil of M. Pils, M. Moreau has, like may other followers, emancipated himself from the traditions of his teaching and displayed his own individuality in his works.…M. Moreau is a verification in himself of the artistic axiom that a true artist, when so willed, can give equally good work in landscape as in figure painting.…Like Van Dyck, Mr. Moreau depicts his men as cavaliers, and gives his grandes dames as much refinement as grace. His touch is microscopic in its details, and yet the accessories are always kept subservient to the theme of the story. M. Moreau is an artist to the very tips of his fingers.
- H.W.S. “Sous La Feuille – (Under the Greenwood),” The Magazine of Art Illustrated (Vol. 3) 1880, pg. 301.
Adrien Moreau was born in Troyes on April 18, 1843. Despite being related to several artists, his family had other aspirations for him besides becoming an artist; his father matched Adrien’s determination to become an artist with his interest in his establishing himself as a lawyer. Eventually, Adrien’s desire won out and he began his first artistic training by apprenticing with a glassmaker in his home city.
Moreau’s debuted at the Parisian Salon in 1868 with Puis ce Prophète s’en alla et un lion le rencontra et le tua (Then Shall This Prophet Go…), a religious subject which “placed him among the ranks of the greatest painters of contemporary genre.” (Joseph Uzanne, Figures Contemporains Tirée de l’Album Mariani, vol. 8, Paris: Libraire Henri Floury, 1903) He followed his debut the next year with a neo-classical painting entitled Néron Chez Les Belluaires (Nero at the House of the Belluaires). Shortly after his Salon exhibitions, the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 broke out which forced military attacks into the streets of Paris. During the course of events Moreau’s studio was actually destroyed by an explosion. He did not exhibit again until 1873, when he showed Concert d’Amateurs dans un Atelier d’Artiste (Amateur Concert in an Artist’s Atelier). It was this type of painting that officially established his reputation, and especially found a public that was eager to acquire these nostalgic images. C.H. Stranahan, in A History of French Painting (New York: Scribner’s & Sons, 1888, pg. 347) classified his work as falling “into the class of historical genre, which he, however, paints with a humorous as well as skillful touch.”
In a most delicious series of paintings, Adrien Moreau has given us a charming idea of the luxurious life of the French nobility of the sixteenth century. He depicts the pleasures of an idle class, it is true; but idleness and amusement were the privileges of the wealthy and the great of the period from which he has chosen his subjects.…At the same time a proper subordination of mere accessories to the central interest of the picture is carefully maintained. In this festive scene we hardly know whether to admire most of the faces, so full of expression appropriate to the merry occasion; the figures inimitably graceful in action or in repose; or the lovely woodland setting, in which is framed this picture of an aristocratic holiday. The artist fancies persons of quality for the peopling of his canvases, and makes his men gallant cavaliers, and gives to his grandes dames, or great ladies, as much refinement as grace. He is so careful a student of the times he depicts, that we may know that the customs and costumes are precisely what they really were in these courtier days of France.
While today Moreau may be best remembered for these images from the eighteenth century, he also executed a number of compositions showing the peasantry and their life, including aspects of the landscape and environment. “One thing is true of him that can be said of very few artists – he is equally at home in landscape and figure painting; and he bestows equal care on the portrayal of each, neither being disregarded in favor of the other.” (Famous Paintings, pg. 169)
Interestingly, the figures seem as if they are inspired by nineteenth-century France, despite his interest in wanting to portray a scene from the seventeenth century. This problem befell many other artists who wanted to depict a past era, but who had little information to rely on besides current models and fashions. Still, Moreau’s interest in wanting to depict a cross section of the social strata is certainly admirable and firmly places him within the mindset of the nineteenth century artist struggling with such social issues. It also shows that he often did not translate this social concern to many of his other works.
By 1892 he had shown himself to be an important part of the Academic traditions of the time and was awarded the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur. As an active member of the Salon he continued to live and work in Paris until his death on February 22, 1906.