Oedipus and the Sphinx

Oedipus and the Sphinx

Gustave Moreau


Oil on canvas

205 x 104 in.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

"Very few themes inspired Gustave Moreau, but each one had such a hold on him that it was not unusual for him to pursue it for twenty, thirty or forty years. The most extraordinary instance of this is The Suitors, which was begun in 1852 and continued intermittently till his death in 1898, that is, over a period of forty-six years. In his workL'Art fantastique de Gustave Moreau, Ragnar von Holten distinguishes two categories: 'works concerned with Woman and those concerned with Man'. As the two sexes appear together in the same painting sometimes, this should be taken as a distinction between works offering homage to woman and those exalting the glory of man."

"Once again we must go back to Oedipus and the Sphinx to understand clearly the opposing principles of masculinity and femininity in Moreau's work. In concept and plastic expression it derived from Ingres' painting of the same name, but there the Sphinx is only partly present; Ingres, who was probably too sure of his hero's victory, painted only the upper part of her body (the Sphinx was always feminine in Greek mythology). In Moreau's work, the Sphinx occupies the centre of the painting and is already clawing Oedipus's breast. If we did not know the story, we might have doubts about his final victory and, in fact, Moreau often depicted the Sphinx victorious enthroned on a mound of corpses." — José Pierre, p. 94