Eugène Delacroix

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Image:Eugene Delacroix-Nadar.jpg
Eugène Delacroix (portrait by Nadar)

Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix (April 26, 1798August 13, 1863) was the most important of the French Romantic painters. Delacroix' use of expressive brushstrokes and his study of the optical effects of color profoundly shaped the work of the Impressionists, while his passion for the exotic inspired the artists of the Symbolist movement.


[edit] Early life

Delacroix was born at Saint-Maurice-en-Chalencon, Ardèche département, in the Rhône-Alpes région of southern France. There is reason to believe that his father, Charles Delacroix, was infertile at the time of Eugène's conception and that his real father was Talleyrand, who was a friend of the family, and whom the adult Eugène resembled in appearance and character. His early education was at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, where he steeped himself in the classics and won awards for drawing. In 1815 he began his training with Pierre-Narcisse Guérin in the neoclassical style of Jacques-Louis David, but he was strongly influenced by the more colorful and rich style of the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and fellow French artist Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) whose works marked an introduction to romanticism in art.

In 1822, his first major painting, The Barque of Dante, was accepted by the Paris Salon and two years later he achieved popular success for his Massacre at Chios.

[edit] Chios and Missolonghi

Image:Eugène Delacroix - Le Massacre de Scio.jpg
Massacre at Chios (1824, Louvre)

Delacroix's painting of the Massacre at Chios (also called Massacre at Scio, French: Scènes des massacres de Scio), shows sick, dying Greek civilians about to be slaughtered by the Turks. One of several paintings he made of this contemporary event, it expresses sympathy for the Greek cause in their war of independence against the Turks, a popular sentiment at the time for the French people. Delacroix was quickly recognized as a leading painter in the new Romantic style, and the picture was bought by the state. His depiction of suffering was controversial however, as there was no glorious event taking place, no patriots raising their swords in valour as in David's Oath of the Horatii, only a disaster. Many critics deplored the painting's despairing tone; one called it "a massacre of art". The pathos in the depiction of an infant clutching its dead mother's breast had an especially powerful effect, although this detail was condemned as unfit for art by Delacroix's critics.

Image:Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix 017.jpg
Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1827, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux)

Delacroix painted a second painting in support of the Greeks in their war of independence in 1827. Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi shows a woman in Greek costume with her arms raised in a powerless gesture toward the horrible scene: the suicide of the Greeks, who chose to kill themselves and destroy their city rather than surrender to the Turks. A hand is seen at the bottom, the body having being crushed by the rubble of the city. The whole picture serves as a monument to the people of Missolonghi and to the idea of freedom against tyrannical rule. This event interested Delacroix not only for his sympathies with the Greeks, but also because the poet Byron, whom Delacroix greatly admired, had died there.

[edit] Death of Sardanapalus

Delacroix's painting of the death of the Assyrian king Sardanapalus shows an emotionally stirring scene alive with beautiful colours, exotic costumes and tragic events. The Death of Sardanapalus depicts the besieged king watching impassively as guards carry out his orders to kill his servants, concubines and animals. The literary source is a play by Byron, although the play does not specifically mention any massacre of concubines.

Sardanapalus' attitude of calm detachment is a familiar pose in Romantic imagery in this period in Europe. The painting, which was not exhibited again for many years afterward, has been regarded by some critics as a gruesome fantasy involving death and lust. Especially shocking is the struggle of a nude woman whose throat is about to be cut, a scene placed prominently in the foreground for maximum impact. However, the sensuous beauty and exotic colours of the composition make the picture appear pleasing and shocking at the same time.

[edit] Liberty leading the people

Delacroix's most influential work came in 1830 with the painting Liberty Leading the People, which for choice of subject and technique highlights the differences between the romantic approach and the neoclassical style of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. Probably Delacroix's best known painting, it is an unforgettable image of Parisians, having taken up arms, marching forward under the banner of the tricolour representing liberty and freedom; Delacroix was inspired by contemporary events to invoke the romantic image of the spirit of liberty. The soldiers lying dead in the foreground offer poignant counterpoint to the symbolic female figure, who is illuminated triumphantly, as if in a spotlight.

The French government bought the painting but officials deemed its glorification of liberty too inflammatory and removed it from public view. Nonetheless, Delacroix still received many government commissions for murals and ceiling paintings. He seems to have been trying to represent the spirit and the character of the people, rather than glorify the actual event, a revolution against King Charles X which did little other than bringing a different king, Louis-Philippe, to power.

Following the Revolution of 1848 that saw the end of the reign of King Louis Philippe, Delacroix' painting, Liberty Leading the People, was finally put on display by the newly elected President, Napoleon III. Today, it is visible in the Louvre museum.

The boy holding a gun up on the right is sometimes thought to be an inspiration of the Gavroche character in Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, Les Misérables.

[edit] Travel to North Africa

In 1832, he traveled to Spain and North Africa, a trip that would influence the subject matter of a great many of his future paintings. Many of Delacroix' later works were based on what he saw during this trip. As part of a diplomatic mission to Morocco shortly after the French conquered Algeria, Delacroix was entranced by the people and the costumes. He believed that the North Africans, in their attire and their attitudes, provided a modern equivalent to how the people of Classical Rome and Greece would have looked.

He managed to sketch some women secretly in Tangier, as shown in the painting Women of Algiers in their Apartment, but generally he had trouble getting Moslem women to pose for him because of the strict Moslem rules that women must be covered. He painted some Jewish women in North Africa, such as Jewish Bride, as this was less problematical. Islamic art, traditionally abstract designs and arabesques, has often frowned on depictions of the human form, and Delacroix sometimes had to hide what he was doing from the local people.

While at Tangier he made many sketches of the people and the city around him, for paintings which he would paint sometimes much later. In fact, he did over 100 paintings and drawings of scenes from or based on the life of the people of North Africa. Animals he had seen were incorporated into the paintings. In Arab Horses Fighting in a Stable and The Lion Hunt in Morocco, he used images of horses and lions along with people in costume to portray the life in North Africa. In another painting with both animals and humans, Moroccan Saddling his Horse, the man has a more important role.

[edit] Other

Eugène Delacroix also illustrated various works of William Shakespeare, the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott, and the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He is also well known for his Journals, in which he expressed his views on art as well as a variety of topics.

Throughout his life Delacroix painted portraits, religious subjects, scenes from history and scenes from literature. Despite the centrality of the figure in his work, his occasional flower pieces and landscapes are outstanding. Among his notable paintings of friends was a double portrait of the composer Frédéric Chopin and writer George Sand; the painting was subsequently cut, but the individual portraits survive.

Eugène Delacroix died in Paris, France and was interred there in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

[edit] See also

18th century - 19th century
Romantic music: Beethoven - Berlioz - Brahms - Chopin - Grieg - Liszt - Puccini - Schumann - Tchaikovsky - The Five - Verdi - Wagner
   Romantic poetry: Blake - Burns - Byron - Coleridge - Goethe - Hölderlin - Hugo - Keats - Lamartine - Leopardi - Lermontov - Mickiewicz - Nerval - Novalis - Pushkin - Shelley - Słowacki - Wordsworth   
Visual art and architecture: Brullov - Constable - Corot - Delacroix - Friedrich - Géricault - Gothic Revival architecture - Goya - Hudson River school - Leutze - Nazarene movement - Palmer - Turner
Romantic culture: Bohemianism - Romantic nationalism
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Eugène Delacroix

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