In a fit of madness, the Olympian demi-god Hercules killed his wife and his six sons. His imposed penance involved twelve “labors” that taxed even his divine bravery and strength. As his eighth labor, Hercules was commanded to steal a ferocious herd of mares belonging to the Thracian King, Diomedes, who had raised them on a diet of human flesh. French painter Gustave Moreau portrays the culminating scene in the narrative, when Hercules lets the raging horses loose on their own master. Moreau uses strong contrasts to heighten the drama of the moment as the brilliant white and gleaming black mares tear the blood-red cloak away from Diomedes’ pallid body. Throughout his career, Moreau returned to the saga of the demi-god and his labors, often providing an unorthodox twist, as seen here in his languid depiction of Hercules, lurking half-hidden in the mid-distance shadows to watch the king’s gruesome death.

From Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 89 (2015)
Artist Gustave Moreau, French, 1826-1898
  • Diomedes Devoured by His Horses
Date between 1865 and 1870
Medium oil on canvas
Dimensions Unframed: 18 × 15 inches (45.7 × 38.1 cm)
Framed: 27 × 24 1/16 × 2 1/2 inches (68.6 × 61.1 × 6.4 cm)
Credit Line Museum Purchase, Robert H. Tannahill Foundation Fund
Accession Number 2002.114
Department European Painting
On View Modern N200, Level 2 (see map)
Signed Signed, lower left: Gustave Moreau
Inscriptions Inscribed, verso: A Monsieur Durufle - Diomede - Gustave Moreau
Paris, Collection Gustave Durufle, acq. from artist Feb. 1877;
New York, Christie's, sale 25 October 1996, lot 80;
New York, French & Company (dealer, 1997-2002) from whom purchased by the DIA in 2002.
Leprieur, P. Gustave Moreau et son Oeuvre. Paris, 1889, p. 36.

Renan, A. Gustave Moreau. Paris, 1900, p. 30 (or 130? per Rouen cat.).

Exposition Gustave Moreau. Exh. cat., Galerie George Petit. Paris, 1906, cat. 40.

Mathieu, P.-L. Gustave Moreau. Fribourg, 1976, no. 179 (and Oxford, 1977, p. 308, no. 79 - or 179? per Rouen cat.).

Mathieu, P.-L. Gustave Moreau. Cat. rais., Courbevoie, 1998, no. 92, repr. p. 131.

Exh. cat., XXIVe Biennale de Sao Paolo. Sao Paolo, p. 132 (repr.).

Gustave Moreau, Diomède dévoré par ses chevaux. Exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts. Rouen, 2000, cat. 26, pp.47-8, 58, repr. p. 27.

Bulletin of the DIA: Annual Report 77, no. 3/4 (2003): pp. 6, 20, 22.

Bulletin of the DIA: Notable Acquisitions, 2000–2015 89, no. 1/4 (2015): p. 16 (ill.).