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A man prepares to confront an angel on a mountain side

A young man in a loincloth stands in a slight crouch, facing us and turning to the left, with his reaching arms outstretched in front of him. His eyes are raised as his head is bowed forward and to the left. Standing just behind him on the rocky ground of a mountainside, is a winged human-like being, arrayed in ornate robes of red, pale gold, and blue, rays of light radiating from its brilliant gold halo. The figure looks toward us and with one hand clutches the man’s arm. Behind them, bright clouds pass in front of a full moon in a deep blue sky.

Gallery Text

This nocturnal scene derives from the Book of Genesis, in which Jacob, on his journey to Canaan, wrestles with an angel. Condemning Delacroix’s famous 1861 painting of the biblical passage, Moreau wrote that his illustration of the scene more accurately conveyed the futility of Jacob’s battle, as he fights an invisible and infinitely more powerful foe.

Moreau’s monumental canvases have been interpreted as allegories of contemporary politics, and the struggle between human and moral strength in this painting could allude to Moreau’s strident reaction to the brutal conflicts of 1870–71. These included the Franco-Prussian War, in which he fought as a soldier. When this painting was presented at the Exposition universelle of 1878, it functioned on an additional allegorical level. It was part of a trio of works — including The Infant Moses, in the adjacent gallery, and David — that symbolized the three ages of man.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Gustave Moreau, French (Paris 1826 - 1898 Paris)
Jacob and the Angel
Work Type
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2100, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, Centuries of Tradition, Changing Times: Art for an Uncertain Age
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Physical Descriptions

Oil on canvas
sight: 254.7 x 145.3 cm (100 1/4 x 57 3/16 in.)
framed: 293.3 x 183.6 x 8 cm (115 1/2 x 72 5/16 x 3 1/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: l.l.: Gustave Moreau
  • stamp: verso of canvas, black ink, stamped: [stamped twice, in oval shape:] Anc'ne M'son ANGE OTTOZ / Henry et [ ] Sner / Mds de Couleurs Fines / Paris / 2 R. de la Michodiere
  • inscription: verso of canvas, black paint, handwritten: Jacob et l'Ange - Gustave Moreau -
  • inscription: bar of stretcher, black crayon: 392 [ ] M
  • label: bar of stretcher, black ink, printed: 23.634 ["2" written over in graphite to be a "1"]
  • label: bar of stretcher, black ink, printed: 23.281
  • label: bar of stretcher, black ink, printed: 12.415
  • stamp: back of canvas, black ink, stamped: Douane stamp [also one on bar of stretcher]
  • inscription: bar of stretcher, graphite: [monogram; see curatorial file.]


Recorded Ownership History
Gustave Moreau, 1878, sold; to Marie Raffalovich, 1878, sold; [to Galerie Georges Petit, Paris] sold; to the Vicomte de Curel, sold; to [Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, France], sold; to Charles Guasco, Paris, sold; [his estate sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, June 11, 1900, no. 58] sold; to Paul Gillibert, bequest; to his niece, Mme. de Saint-Péreux. Baron de T., sold; [his estate sale, Galerie Lambert, Nice, February 15, 1934] sold; [to Jacques Seligmann & Co., New York, NY, (February 15, 1934 - March 27, 1934)] sold; to Grenville L. Winthrop, New York, NY, bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1943.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art


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Publication History

  • Ary Renan, "Gustave Moreau", Gazette des Beaux-Arts (May 1886), ser. 2, 33, pp. 377-94, pp. 378-379
  • Ary Renan, "Gustave Moreau", Gazette des Beaux-Arts (July 1886), ser. 2, 34, pp. 35-51, p. 42
  • Paul Leprieur, "Gustave Moreau et son Oeuvre", L'Artiste (March - June 1889), 59, no. 1, p. 37
  • [Unidentified article], Gazette des Beaux-Arts (1899), vol. XXII, p. 65
  • Ary Renan, Gustave Moreau, Gazette des Beaux-Arts (Paris, France, 1900)
  • Vente Charles Guasco, auct. cat., Galerie Georges Petit (Paris, France, June 11, 1900), no. 58, repr.
  • Exposition Gustave Moreau au profit des oeuvres du travail et des pauvres honteux, exh. cat., Galerie Georges Petit (Paris, France, 1906), cat. no. 62
  • Jean Laran and Léon Deshairs, Gustave Moreau, Librairie centrale des beaux-arts (Paris, France, 1913), pp. 78, 81-82, repr. p. 82
  • Fernand Romanet, "Gustave Moreau (à propos de son centenaire)", La Revue Hebdomadaire (April 17 1926), pp. 310-330, p. 324
  • Ragnar von Holten, L'Art Fantastique de Gustave Moreau (Paris, France, 1960), repr. no. 66
  • Germain Seligman, Merchants of Art, exh. cat., Appleton-Century-Crofts (New York, NY, 1961), p. 149
  • Julius Kaplan, Gustave Moreau, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA, 1974), pp. 43-44; fig. 27
  • Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: with a catalogue of the finished paintings watercolors, and drawings, New York Graphic Society (Boston, MA, 1976), no. 170, repr. p. 134, mentioned p. 134
  • Jean Selz, Gustave Moreau, Crown Publications (New York, NY, 1979), pp. 53, 56
  • Julius Kaplan, The Art of Gustave Moreau: Theory, Style, and Content, U.M.I. Research Press (Ann Arbor, MI, 1982), pp. 9, 69-72, 74, 92, 95; repr. in b/w fig. 55
  • Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 121, repr. as no. 323
  • Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Gustave Moreau, Flammarion (Paris, France, 1991), no. 197, p. 99
  • Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Gustave Moreau, Flammarion (Paris, France, 1994), pp. 137-138, repr.
  • Gustave Moreau: Gyusutavu Moro, exh. cat., Nihon Hoso Kyokai (Tokyo, Japan, 1995), p. 126-127, repr. b/w
  • Geneviève Lacambre, Gustave Moreau: Maître Sorcier, Réunion des Musées Nationaux (Paris, France, 1997), pp. 55, 58, 59, 98, repr. p. 59
  • Geneviève Lacambre, Gustave Moreau, 1826-1898, exh. cat., Réunion des Musées Nationaux (Paris, France, 1998), under no. 76, n. 1
  • Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: L'assembleur de rêves (Courbevoie, 1998), p. 102, repr. p. 104
  • Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Gustave Moreau: Monographie et nouveau catalogue de l'oeuvre achevé, ACR Édition (Paris, France, 1998), no. 199, p. 336, repr.; repr. in color, p. 74
  • Geneviève Lacambre, Gustave Moreau: between Epic and Dream, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL, 1999), under no. 76, n. 1, p. 288
  • Geneviève Lacambre, Gustave Moreau: Magic and Symbols, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1999), pp. 55, 58, 59, 98, repr. p. 59
  • Chikashi Kitazaki and Mina Oya, ed., Between Reality and Dreams: Nineteenth Century British and French Art from the Winthrop Collection of the Fogg Art Museum, exh. cat., National Museum of Western Art (Ueno, 2002), pp. 190-191, cat. #54, color repr.
  • Stephan Wolohojian, ed., A Private Passion: 19th-Century Paintings and Drawings from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection, Harvard University, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press (U.S.) (New York, 2003), no. 96, pp. 242-245, repr. in color
  • Stephan Wolohojian, Ingres, Burne-Jones, Whistler, Renoir... La Collection Grenville L. Winthrop, exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon and Réunion des Musées Nationaux (Paris, France, 2003), no. 96, pp. 252-255, repr. in color
  • Suzanne Singletary, "Jacob Wrestling with the Angel: A Theme in Symbolist Art", Nineteenth-Century French Studies (spring-summer 2004), vol. 32, nos. 3/4, pp. 298-311, pp. 304, 305; repr. as fig. 2
  • Jodi Hauptman, "Beyond the Visible", exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY, 2005), p. 27, repr. in color as fig. 11
  • Narayan Khandekar and Stephan Wolohojian, "Gustave Moreau's 'Jacob and the Angel' Re-examined", The Burlington Magazine (April 2005), vol. CXLVII, no. 1225, pp. 253-257, pp. 253-257, repr. in color as fig. 44
  • Rachel Sloan, "Gustave Moreau and the Raffalovich family: new documents for 'Sappho'", The Burlington Magazine (May 2006), CXLVIII, pp. 327-331, p. 328
  • Peter Cooke, Gustave Moreau: History Painting, Spirituality and Symbolism, Yale University Press (U.S.) (New Haven and London, 2014), pp. 96, 97, 102, 104, repr. p. 103 as fig. 81
  • Gustave Moreau (Tokyo, 2019), pp. 91-91, repr.

Exhibition History

  • Exposition Universelle, 1878, [Unknown venue, Paris], 05/01/1878 - 10/31/1878
  • Exposition décennale de l'art français, [Unknown venue, Paris], 01/01/1889 - 12/31/1889
  • Exposition Gustave Moreau au profit des oeuvres du travail et des pauvres honteux, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 01/01/1906 - 12/31/1906
  • Moreau and Monticelli, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, 05/13/1960 - 06/08/1960
  • Pre-Raphaelite and Early French Symbolist Art in the Fogg Collections, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 01/16/1973 - 02/25/1973
  • Between Reality and Dreams: Nineteenth Century British and French Art from the Winthrop Collection of the Fogg Art Museum, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 09/14/2002 - 12/08/2002
  • A Private Passion: 19th-Century Paintings and Drawings from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection, Harvard University, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, Lyon, 03/15/2003 - 05/26/2003; National Gallery, London, 06/25/2003 - 09/14/2003; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 10/23/2003 - 01/25/2004
  • For Students of Art and Lovers of Beauty: Highlights from the Collection of Grenville L. Winthrop, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/16/2004
  • 32Q: 2100 19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Related Works

Verification Level

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