I don’t often do art-related posts, but I realised I had never shared my passion for the work of Gustav Adolf Mossa with you all. A few years ago I was on holiday in Nice and took a trip to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which I would highly recommend if you are ever visiting.
I was enjoying myself, I usually do, but had just been sweetened to death by a roomful of sickly, twee watercolours by someone I can’t remember (why on earth would I?). I swiftly turned a corner, and entered a new room. Everything stopped still. My thought process was something like “these are very beautiful … these are very intricate … I’m going to look closer … oh my word, these are a bit dark … oh wow, these are utterly terrifyingly twisted and even more beautiful for it”. I had entered the world of Gustav Adolf Mossa.
Born in 1883 in Nice, Mossa was the son of Alexis Mossa – an accomplished artist in his own right, and trained at l’École des Arts Décoratifs de Nice. Mossa was inspired by the Symbolist movement, and clearly by the ongoing Art Nouveau style of the time. Until he abandoned his distinctive symbolist style in 1911, in favour of more primitive Flemish-style works, he created some of the most disturbing and intricate paintings I have ever seen.
There’s something rather deliciously twisted about them, possibly the reason he hid them from public view until his death in 1971. They invite study and, as a woman, questions about their subject matter. Are the women in his works femme fatales? Are they figures of evil or is Mossa trying to show their potential strength in his imposing, vampish and often gory depictions. I see them as the work of someone who is captivated, and possibly a little terrified, of them, rather than that of a misogynist (which is something of which he has often been accused).
I’m also not averse to contemplating the fact that many women actually are as dark and demonic as some men portray them. I think we all have it within us, but our fear of our dark side makes us instinctively defensive against male depictions of women in this way. If Mossa had been a woman, would we look upon his work more favourably?
Away from that, they are simply inspirational in their colour, detail and shapes. Like nothing I’ve ever seen before, almost cartoon-like in comparison to many artists of the Belle Epoque but greater in detail than any I’ve seen before or since. I’m not sure I actually want to inhabit the paintings in terms of the situations, but if life could be as beautiful, rich and soulful as a Mossa painting, then I’d be very happy.