Gustave Moreau’s talent was recognized and encouraged early on by his father, Louis Jean Marie Moreau, who was a wealthy architect. Adele Pauline des Moutiers was Moreau’s mother, and he was born in Paris, France on April 6, 1826; it seems that he was an only child. As a young man his parents were supportive of him in his art studies and his first significant teacher was François-Édouard Picot. He was much influenced by artist Théodore Chassériau and learned a lot from his works, using Chassériau’s Romanticism style and techniques to improve his own paintings.
Essentially, Moreau was a Symbolist painter who specialized in mythological and religious subjects, illustrating them with great imagination and some romanticism. His first painting belongs to the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre d'Angoulême, and it is a Pieta, showing the Madonna holding Jesus' body across her lap. In 1853 he submitted two paintings to the Paris Salon; The Death of Darius, his depiction of the great king of the Achaemenid Empire who died in 486 BC, and A Scene from the Song of Songs, a biblical theme which references human love from the Songs of Solomon in the Old Testament. There was a Great Exhibition that same year also, which Moreau presented two more of his paintings. One was representative of Greek mythology and titled Athenians with the Minotaur, and the other was a religious scene called Moses Putting Off His Sandals within Sight of the Promised Land. In 1894 he exhibited his version of Oedipus and the Sphinx, which was rich in symbolism, more so than in any of the works that he’d done before.
He was reasonably well off financially and lived in his parent’s home for his entire life. He exhibited regularly at the Salon, although he never really took them as seriously as did the other artists whose career depended on a good review. Moreau was somewhat of a recluse, but he had a couple of very good friends, including Adelaide-Alexandrine Dureux. She had been his model for several of his paintings and had a close relationship with Moreau for almost 25 years. It’s never been determined if their friendship was deeper or more romantic than it appeared on the surface.
In 1891 he took a job as a professor at the Paris' École des Beaux-Arts. As teachers go, he was an inspiring one, encouraging his students to be individual in their goals, rather than forcing a set of artistic methods upon them. Some of his students during his tenure were Jules Flandrin, Theodor Pallady, Georges Rouault, Léon Printemps and Henri Matisse. Rouault was his closest student, friend and follower to whom he left in charge of his home/studio/museum as a curator, after Moreau's death.
In 1896, two years before his death, Moreau had completed a large extension to his existing home, which he designed in such a way as to create a museum of his own works. Moreau had made over 8000 drawings, watercolors and paintings, most of which he had kept and then displayed exactly as he saw fit in his museum. The home was left to the nation of France after his death on April 18, 1898, and the newly expanded section of the home was opened to the public in 1903. The actual living apartments which the Moreau family had occupied was not open to the public until 1992, almost one hundred years after Moreau’s death. It remains exactly arranged as he’d left it a century ago, which is an amazing look into not only his personal life, but into the past in general.