ca. 1890
oil on canvas
Framed (new frame as of 2006): 31 3/8 × 20 5/8 × 2 7/8 in. (79.69 × 52.39 × 7.3 cm)
Unframed: 25 3/4 × 14 3/4 in. (65.41 × 37.47 cm)

Narcissus, a young hunter from Greek mythology, rejected anyone who fell in love with him, most famously the unhappy nymph Echo. Wandering aimlessly one day, he comes to the bank of a river where he is captivated by the reflection of his face in the water. He falls helplessly in love with the beauty of his own image, but this self-desire—however passionate—is impossible. As he loses interest in everything else, his sweet affection for his reflected aspect becomes a kind of torture. In despair, the young man takes his own life.  

In his history paintings, Moreau frequently placed figures in prolifically ornate and detailed settings. In this instance, an androgynous nude inspired by the Italian Renaissance is depicted surrounded by motifs from classical architecture as well as exuberant flora and fauna. In sympathy with the young man’s deepening state of depression, the plants are wilting and the architecture is crumbling. The tragic solitude of the lover is an opportunity for the painter to mirror the man’s alienation from the world and its activities.

signed, lower right corner: "Gustave Moreau"
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

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