The National Museum of Western Art

update 06 October 2020

Currently not on display

Gustave Moreau [Paris, 1826 - Paris, 1898]

The Sacred Elephant (Péri)

Materials/Techniqueswatercolour and gouache on paper
Size (cm)57.0 x 43.5
InscriptionsSigned lower left: Gustave Moreau
Standard ref.Mathieu, 1976, 325; Mathieu, 1998, 365
Collection NumberD.1995-0001
The Sacred Elephant (Péri)

Moreau is a 19th century French artist considered the pioneer of Symbolism. Although literary sources of the theme of "a sacred elephant" are unclear, it would appear to be based on the Hindu belief. This work is a fine example conveying Moreau's delicate and gallant mastership of watercolour. Particularly the way one colour is applied over another on the ornament on the elephant's head is a technique frequently employed in Moreau's watercolours of the 1880s. The transparent expression of the plants on both sides is similar to the effect identifiable in the upper panel of "La vie de l'humanité" (1886). The effect of the estrangement of the line drawing and the colouring was also applied to the highly experimental techniques employed in "Les Licornes"(1886). (Source: The Digital Gallery. 1999-2006)


Galerie Goupil; Charles Hayem; Alfred Baillehache; Madam Labé de La Mauvinière, Reims; sale Drouot Montaigne, Paris, "Importants tableaux des XIXe et XXe siècles", 20 May 1990, no. 3; Société Dianard; Purchased by the NMWA, 1996.

Exhibition History

La Fontaine's fables, Galerie Goupil, Paris, 27 March 1886 - , Galerie Goupil, London, November 1886
The Crossing Visions: European and Modern Japanese Art from the Collections of The National Museum of Western Art & The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 20 July 1996 - 8 September 1996, cat. no. 80
Gustave Moreau: 1826-1898, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 29 September 1998 - 4 January 1999, The Art Institute of Chicago, 13 February-25 April, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 24 May-22 August, cat. no. 101
Tanka at the National Museum of Western Art: An Encounter between Poet and Art, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 25 July 2000 - 29 October 2000, cat. no. 80
French Masterpiece Drawings from The National Museum of Western Art Collection, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 27 March 2001 - 24 June 2001
Modern Drawings from the National Museum of Western Art: Selections from the Matsukata Collection and Post-1959 Acquisitions, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 23 February 2010 - 30 May 2010, cat. no. 18
[Prints and Drawings Exhibition] Landscape: from the Drawing collection of the National Museum of Western Art, The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 2 March 2013 - 2 June 2013, [21]
Voices Calling from the Unusual: Hirano Keiichiro's Selection of Western Art Masterpieces, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 8 April 2014 - 15 June 2014, cat. no. 3


Leprieur, Paul. Gustave Moreau et son œuvre. Paris, 1889, p. 51.
Huysmans, Jolis-Karles. Certains. Paris, 1889
Montesquiou, Robert de. "Un peintre lapidaire: Gustave Moreau". Gustave Moreau (exh. cat.). Paris, Georges Petit, 1906, p. 20.
Mathieu, Pierre-Louis. Gustave Moreau, sa vie, son œuvre: catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre achevé. Fribourg, 1976, no. 325.
Mathieu, Pierre-Louis. Tout l'œuvre peint de Gustave Moreau. Paris, 1991, no. A11, repr.
Kitazaki, Chikashi. Orient as Fragments - The Structure of Quotation in Gustave Moreau's 《Eléphant Sacré》. Journal of the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo. no. 1, 1997, pp. 50-65, 89-90, repr. [with English Abstract]
Annual bulletin of the National Museum of Western Art. Nos. 29-30 (April 1994-March 1996), 1997, Kitazaki, Chikashi. New Acquisitions. pp. 16-19, List of New Acquisitions. p. 38, col. repr.
Gustave Moreau 1826-1898 (exh. cat.). Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 29 September 1998 - 4 January 1999; The Art Institute, Chicago, 13 February - 25 April 1999; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 24 May - 22 August 1999. Paris, c1998, cat. no. 101
Masterpieces of The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo. Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art, 1998 (Japanese, preface in Japanese and English), no. 95, col. repr.

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