Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1864
Gustave Moreau (French, 1826–1898)
Oil on canvas; 81 1/4 x 41 1/4 in. (206.4 x 104.8 cm)
Signed and dated (lower left): .Gustave Moreau .64.
Bequest of William H. Herriman, 1920 (21.134.1)
Moreau, a virtually unknown artist at the age of thirty-eight, triumphed at the Salon of 1864 with his interpretation of the myth of Oedipus and the Sphinx. This painting represents the moment when Oedipus confronts the winged monster outside Thebes and must solve her riddle to save his life as well as those of the besieged Thebans.
The work shows Moreau's awareness of Ingres's version of the subject (Musée du Louvre, Paris), painted in 1808, which Moreau had sketched. It also demonstrates his familiarity with works by the early Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna, whose paintings Moreau had studied at the Louvre. Moreau's choice of a mythological subject and his deliberately archaizing style distinguished his painting from the realist and naturalist currents of the 1860s.