Following the arcane gestures of your hands
That replicates and duplicates the movement
Of your swaying rolling hips against my pelvis
I stare long and hard into your glittering eyes
Focused on the middle distance chasing down
An ecstasy among the chimeras and paradoxes
The beauty of your distracted expression
Is a provocation, an exhalation of pure spirit
A command from above that I dare not refuse
For you alone can take me there to where I belong
Drenched with colour and drowning in sound
Overwhelmed by sensation and alive in love
Salvador Dali’s arresting photo-montage The Phenomenon of Ecstasy which features the photographic studies of Charcot’s female hysterics, originally accompanied the artist’s essay on the irrational aspects of art nouveau architecture; in particular the buildings of fellow Catalan Antoni Gaudi, in the magazine Minotaure. His contention that “the repugnant can be transformed into the beautiful” through an ecstasy achieved by continuous erotic activity and that the sexual abandon resulting from hysteria leads to a transformation of perception in art, architecture and indeed modern life markedly shows the influence of the Symbolist and Decadent movements of the latter 19th century upon the Surrealists.
A detail of Moreau’s stupendous and highly personal interpretation of the classical myth of Jupiter and Semele was used as the cover of Roberto Bolano’s masterpiece 2666, surely the greatest novel of the 21st century to date.
Showing the moment when Jupiter reveals himself in all his cosmic splendour to the mortal woman Semele, thus causing her death as she is penetrated by the divine effluence, Jupiter et Semele is, as critics have noted, ‘The most sumptuous expression imaginable of an orgasm.’ The crowded canvas with its startling contrasts of lush colour and deep shadow is populated by many mythological figures all seemingly unaware of what is happening in other parts of the painting. Although there is a frenzy of action Moreau has managed to create a frieze-like atmosphere; the awful stillness that happens before and after a cataclysmic event.
Moreau’s paintings are dense and hermetic dreamscapes. As Bolano notes only Moreau could convey, ‘A sense of terror, bedecked with jewels.’