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Artists Eugène Delacroix
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Eugène Delacroix

French Painter

Movement: Romanticism

Born: April 26, 1798 - Charenton Saint Maurice, Paris, France

Died: August 24, 1863 - Paris, France

Eugène Delacroix Timeline

Quotes

"Nature is a vast dictionary. Painters who follow their imagination seek in the dictionary the elements that will accommodate their conception...Those who have no imagination copy the dictionary."
Eugène Delacroix
"Everything is subject matter."
Eugène Delacroix
"If you're not able to sketch a man who throws himself out of the window in the time it takes him to fall from the fourth floor to the ground, you'll never be able to produce great paintings."
Eugène Delacroix
"Give me the mud from the streets and I shall make of it the delicious tones of a woman's flesh."
Eugène Delacroix
"Painting is fortunate in demanding no more than a glance in order to attract and to fix."
Eugène Delacroix
"Adding the finishing touches is very difficult. The danger arises when one reaches a point where reworking is no longer useful, and I am a man prone to reworking."
Eugène Delacroix
"Venice, Parma, Verona have seen colour only from the material side. Delacroix touches at moral colour; this is his oeuvre and his claim to posterity."
Paul Cézanne
"We all paint in Delacroix's language."
Paul Cézanne

"The primary merit of a painting is to be a feast for the eye."

Eugène Delacroix Signature

Synopsis

Delacroix is widely regarded as the leader of the Romantic movement in nineteenth-century French art. His life and work embodied the movement's concern for emotion, exoticism, and the sublime, and his painting style - full of lush, agitated brushwork and pulsating with vivid color - was in direct contrast to the cool and controlled delineations of his peer and rival, Ingres. Delacroix eschewed academic conventions in his choice of subjects, favoring scenes from contemporary history rendered on a large scale in the most dramatic of fashions, with visibly energized brushwork and dynamic figural compositions. Delacroix's work also embodies Romanticism's obsession with the exotic Other, seen in his paintings inspired by a transformational trip to North Africa, but his animal pictures can also be viewed in this vein. Interestingly, many of his works were based on direct observation of nature (he was a prodigious draftsman and took an interest in early photography), which he then combined with a narrative imagination, not surprising given his intimacy with many of the most famous writers of his day.

Key Ideas

Many of Delacroix's Salon paintings depicted dramatic scenes drawn from contemporary history as well as literature. Some of the subjects were shocking for their violence and unabashed portrayal of human suffering, such as Death of Sardanapalus and Massacre at Chios. These works signaled a new direction in modern art, one that emphasized emotional content above order and rationality.
Delacroix's animal paintings embody Romanticism's love of all things wild and untamed. He based these works on studies he made in Paris's Jardin des Plantes, where he sketched lions in the zoo, as well as drawings he made of domestic house cats.
Delacroix's modest still lifes are nonetheless masterful in their use of color harmonies and composition, and demonstrate the artist's desire to master all artistic genres, as a true virtuoso. These works would later influence Impressionist artists who rendered the traditional genre of still life in fresh and modern ways.
Delacroix gained many significant commissions to paint public buildings and churches in France. These decorative projects, such as ceiling paintings and wall murals, allowed the artist to work on a larger scale than ever before, and would later influence the Nabis and other Symbolists who sought to free painting from the confines of the easel.
The visual impact of Delacroix's art owes a great deal to his study of color; he understood (and employed) such principles as the division of tones and the harmony of contrasts, both of which would be enormously important for later modernists such as Van Gogh and Seurat.

Most Important Art

Eugène Delacroix Famous Art

Scenes from the Massacres of Chios (1834)

In the foreground of Delacroix's canvas, we see a group of distraught Greek men, women, and children laying huddled (some dead, some barely alive) on the ground. On the left, a man expires from a stomach wound while his wife leans on his shoulder; on the right, a dead mother leans against an elderly woman as her child tries without success to suckle at her exposed breasts. Behind them on the right an Ottoman Turk charges towards the group dragging a naked prisoner as a figure tries in vain to stop him with upraised hands. In the background, less defined figures are engaged in battle in the devastated landscape as the ocean meets the horizon line of a golden sky. The large scale of the canvas (it is over 16 feet wide) monumentalizes the suffering of the Greek figures, and adds to the overall drama and visual impact of the picture.

The painting was inspired by events from the 1822 Greek War of Independence, during which Turkish Ottoman troops invaded the island of Chios and slaughtered thousands of rebelling Greeks. Delacroix diverged from the conventions of classical narrative painting in which order, regularity, and a sense of control prevailed. Rather, this work establishes a new approach to historical drama. For one, it is based on real and recent events, rather than remote episodes from ancient history or mythology. Delacroix brings the viewer up close to the action, and more specifically to the suffering of the victims - we exist on the same plane as they do, thus inspiring our empathy and emotional communion. Finally, rather than showing the most climactic moments from the battle, he shows us the aftermath, using rich colors and a complex compositional structure with the various groupings of figures in fore- and background.

This work was not well received when exhibited at the 1834 Paris Salon, as many critics felt it depicted the Greeks as victims, rather than brave fighters, leading one to quip: "it's the Massacre of Painting." Others saw fault with its loose brushwork and declared the canvas "le laid" (the ugly). For decades Delacroix would battle negative critical responses to his paintings in part because of his conscious rejection of traditional notions of beauty in art. Yet his approach would gain appeal with fellow artists and viewers, and help launch the Romantic movement as well as influence the work of modern artists such as Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet.
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Eugène Delacroix Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood and Education

Some controversy surrounds the birth of Eugène Delacroix because of the timing of his father's operation to remove a testicular tumor just seven months before his birth. Most believe, however, that he was the youngest of four children born to parents Victorie Oeben and Charles Delacroix, a foreign minister under Napoleon's regime. Delacroix's early life was filled with much loss including the death of his father when he was seven; his brother was killed in battle when he was nine; and his mother passed away in 1814 when he was just sixteen.

Delacroix displayed an interest in art from an early age. With the encouragement of his uncle, artist Henri-François Riesener, he began to study at the studio of painter Pierre-Narcisse Guérin and at eighteen enrolled in the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Early Training

Delacroix received his first commission in 1819 for the church of Orcement in France, for which he created The Virgin of the Harvest. A year later he was invited by Théodore Géricault to assist with a commission for the Cathedral of Nantes; Delacroix painted the final work, Virgin of the Sacred Heart (1822), and split the fee with Géricault. Delacroix had befriended the older artist when both men were students of Guérin. Delacroix had been greatly moved when he saw Géricault's Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819), and Géricault in turn recognized the talent of his young friend.

It was also early in his career that Delacroix developed his first bout of tubercular laryngitis that would plague him throughout his life, causing him constant worry about his health. In an attempt to prevent the illness from recurring he wore a scarf tied around his neck which, while functional, also helped to establish his reputation as a fashionable man.

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Eugène Delacroix Biography Continues

Known for his independence, Delacroix defied French artistic tradition by not applying for the prestigious Prix de Rome (the usual way for artists to gain career recognition) and instead established himself through regular exhibitions at public Salons beginning in 1822. He also strayed from classical themes and adopted a more modern approach by depicting dramatic narratives (often drawn from current events) with heightened color and dynamic compositions. This can be seen in such epic works as Scenes from the Massacres of Chios (1824); The Death of Sardanapalus (1828); and Liberty Leading the People (1830). These paintings helped establish Delacroix as a leader of the Romantic movement, a label he did not always relish. He was known to associate with the literary Romantics, including novelist Victor Hugo. His initial respect for Hugo later soured when he became known as "the Hugo of the palette."

Mature Period

A turning point in Delacroix's career was his 1832 trip to Morocco with Count Charles de Mornay, who was Louis-Philippe's special ambassador to the colony (France conquered Algeria in 1830, and the North African country became a French colony). Delacroix spent six months traveling around the country with the diplomatic delegation, and he was charged with documenting the journey in art works. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Sultan, who gifted Delacroix a horse (that he later sold to fund the purchase of Moroccan objects he brought home with him).

Self-portrait by Delacroix (1840)
Self-portrait by Delacroix (1840)

The sights, sounds, and strange new culture Delacroix encountered - most especially the people, their costumes, and the light and atmosphere of the Mediterranean land - would result in the creation of an entire body of work inspired by this journey. Finding models however was not always an easy task since many of the Muslims he met would not pose for the artist due to their religion's prohibition on the depiction of human images and as a result many of his subjects were Jewish people who were better able to welcome Delacroix into their homes to be sketched. Delacroix wrote of the trip, "The aspect of this country will remain forever in my eyes, all my life long the men of this noble race will live and move in my memory; it is they who have really brought back to me the beauty of the ancients."

Delacroix was avid writer who kept journals throughout his life. In fact, his main dairy was collected and later published as a 3 volume series titled Journal. Although of great importance and insight into the artist, the document is not a typical dairy, but contains various information from train schedules to addresses, memory aides, working methods, and ideas about art.

Upon returning to France, Delacroix's career was marked by important official commissions, including the project for the Salon du Roi and Library at the Palais Bourbon, and murals for the Church of Saint-Sulpice. He also painted scenes for the library of the Chamber of Peers at the Luxembourg palace. All of this decorative work was physically draining for the artist, and beginning in 1844 Delacroix began to spend more time at his country house at Champrosay where he could rest and recuperate.

Later Period

His later life was marked by periods of poor health, which impacted his productivity (he had to stop working for a time in the early 1840s). His housekeeper at the time, a woman named Jenny Le Guillou, carefully monitored his recovery. Delacroix never married but was known for affairs with numerous women, including his models and possibly even Le Guillou who was with him until his death and to whom he bequeathed a self-portrait from 1837.

Portrait of Eugène Delacroix by Leon Riesener (1842)
Portrait of Eugène Delacroix by Leon Riesener (1842)

Always a lover of literature and music, Delacroix enjoyed gatherings that put him in contact with leading creative people of the era. A friendship with the novelist Georges Sand and her lover, the composer Chopin, for instance, began with a commission to create her portrait. Sand was famous for her practice of dressing like a man, and did so for her portrait, but Delacroix playfully warned her against it as a man, in his opinion, could be "a villainous beast."

In the later years of Delacroix's career, he drew inspiration from nature and painted numerous works featuring gardens and flowers. He also continued to focus on large-scale tableaux and decorations, and in 1850 was selected to paint a mythological scene on the main ceiling of the Apollo Gallery in the Louvre. This work was widely praised and deemed such a success that the artist received 6,000 francs more than originally contracted. These paintings would influence the work of early modernist artists such as Odilon Redon, whose Pegasus and the Hydra (1905) was directly influenced by Delacroix's Louvre ceiling painting Apollo Slaying the Serpent (1850-51).

The greatest rival of Delacroix was none other than Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. It is said that at the time, there was an major artistic disagreement in the art world, summarized as the fight between color and line. Delacroix stood for color, while Ingres, and the Neoclassicist tradition he was continuing from David thought line most important in painting. The two men had various run-ins: in one anecdote, Ingres asked for the windows of the Louvre opened to air out the "smell of suphur" that a prior visit by Delacroix supposedly left in the museum.

Major recognition came late in Delacroix's career with his one-man show at the 1855 Universal Exposition. While thirty-five of his greatest works were exhibited, his two most politicized and controversial works -- The Death of Sardanapalus (1827) and Liberty Leading the People (1830) - were only added after the Emperor intervened and insisted on their inclusion. After this success, in 1857 he was finally elected, after seven failed attempts, to the Académie des Beaux-Arts.

Perhaps Delacroix's most influential friendship from the literary world was with the much younger avant-garde poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire, who enjoyed drink and opium and would later be put on trial for obscenity. Baudelaire was a strong supporter of Delacroix's career and helped champion his art in his writing. In his 1963 The Life and Work of Eugène Delacroix, Baudelaire memorialized the artist calling him "a volcanic crater artistically concealed behind bouquets of flowers" and described how he "was passionately in love with passion, and coldly determined to seek the means of expressing it in the most visible way." Indeed, Baudelaire positioned Delacroix, along with his favorite writer Edgar Allan Poe, as the leader not only of the Romantic movement but of the modern movement in art as a whole.

Delacroix continued to paint until the end of his life, but in his last years, perhaps as a result of personal reflection, he increasingly focused on Christian-themed works. Despite his great artistic output, near the end of his life he wondered about his legacy and once wrote, "What will they think of me when I am dead?"


Legacy

The legacy of Delacroix extends beyond his central and generative role within the Romantic movement. His approach to subject matter, the dramatic poses of his figures, his emphasis on expression and emotion, his exploration of natural light in his outdoor landscapes, and his dramatic use of color laid the foundation for the work of the first modern artists, most notably the Impressionists and later Symbolists. In particular, Delacroix's division of tones would have an enormous impact on the work of artists like Monet and Pissarro, among the Impressionists, and his awareness of the power of complementary tones led ultimately to the color theories of Georges Seurat. These artists spoke repeatedly of Delacroix's influence and often created paintings inspired by his most famous works sometimes even directly giving the artist credit. For instance, Pierre-Auguste Renoir's The Jewish Wedding in Morocco (after Delacroix) (1875); Vincent van Gogh's Pieta (after Delacroix) (1889); and Paul Cézanne's Apotheosis of Delacroix (1890-94).

Other artists created visual mementos to the artist as in Henri Fantin-Latour's Homage to Delacroix (1864), which depicted modern artists surrounded by a portrait of Delacroix in acknowledgment of the debt they owed this visionary artist. The influence of Delacroix continued into the twentieth century, as seen in Pablo Picasso's The Women of Algiers, after Delacroix (1955). Never one to want to share the spotlight, Picasso nonetheless spoke admiringly of Delacroix, and gave credence to his enormous influence on modern art when he famously stated, "That bastard, he's really good."

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Eugène Delacroix
Interactive chart with Eugène Delacroix's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Theodore GericaultTheodore Gericault
Francisco GoyaFrancisco Goya
MichelangeloMichelangelo
Peter Paul RubensPeter Paul Rubens
Diego VelazquezDiego Velazquez

Friends

Theophile GautierTheophile Gautier
Dante Alighieri
Lord Byron
William Shakespeare
Adolphe Thiers

Movements

ClassicismClassicism
RomanticismRomanticism
Eugène Delacroix
Eugène Delacroix
Years Worked: 1816 - 1863

Artists

Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Gustave CourbetGustave Courbet
Odilon RedonOdilon Redon
Édouard ManetÉdouard Manet
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso

Friends

Charles BaudelaireCharles Baudelaire
Theophile GautierTheophile Gautier
Theophile Silvestre
Adolphe Thiers

Movements

RomanticismRomanticism
ImpressionismImpressionism
Post-ImpressionismPost-Impressionism
SymbolismSymbolism
ExpressionismExpressionism

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Useful Resources on Eugène Delacroix

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Delacroix Recomended resource

By Simon Lee

written by artist

Eugène Delacroix: Selected Letters, 1813-1863

By Eugène Delacroix

More Interesting Books about Eugène Delacroix
Musee National Eugène Delacroix

National Gallery hosts first UK Eugène Delacroix exhibition

The opening of the exhibition Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art was highly anticipated and visitors included England's Prince Charles

Curator's Introduction | Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art

The National Gallery, London
Curator introduction to the exhibition, Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art at the National
Gallery, February 17 - May 22, 2016

Delacroix's Colour | Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art Recomended resource

The National Gallery, London
Highlights Delacroix's mastery of color in his paintings and the influence that it had on modern artists

Delacroix's Journal | Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art

The National Gallery, London
Explores Delacroix's practice of writing in journals and the insight these entries provide in understanding his art for future generations

Eugène Delacroix - Painter of the French Romanticism

This video provides a visual slideshow of Delacroix's most famous and celebrated paintings and drawings set to music

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