By Paul Dunwell, writing for EasyFrame
© Copyright EasyFrame 2020
Born Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix in France just a year before the end of the Revolution, Delacroix is memorable for several reasons. A painter, muralist and lithographer, he is widely regarded as stylistically the last of the ‘Old Masters’ (ordinarily considered to be those painters who worked in Europe before 1800, though technically he was just a baby at the time).
He as one of the few old masters who was caught on camera (it being invented by the Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in about 1816). And, though he’d trained as a neoclassicist and yet was more interested in capturing movement than detail (making him an embryonic impressionist), he was renowned for his vibrant use of colour and consequently is the stand-out French Romantic. This made him a huge influence on the impressionists who were to follow him in the 1870s, a few years after his death, with Degas, Manet and Renoir all acknowledging his influence on them.
Delacroix’s work didn’t just relate to classical literature by the likes of Shakespeare (with ‘Hamlet with Horatio’, - the gravedigger scene - being an example), for he was also a formidable depicter of rousing politically-charged images of contemporary events - most famously ‘Liberty Leading the People’, which in 1830 was to commemorate the bloody revolution culminating in the fall of Charles X of France (deeply unpopular because he believed in the divine right of kings when the French thought they’d dealt with all that nonsense during the revolution at the end of the previous century, he abdicated and fled to Austria).
Sometimes referred to as ‘The Master of Colour’, Delacroix was to leave almost 10,000 works when he died at 65, works that included portraits, seascapes, landscapes, nudes, battle-scenes, depictions of animals, scenes from the Bible and Greek mythology. In 2018 his ‘Tiger Playing with a Tortoise’ (1862) set an auction record for the artist when it went for $ 9,875,000 at Christie’s.
Left is Delacroix’s self-portrait on the eve of his 40th birthday in 1837. Charles Baudelaire, the French poet, essayist, art critic, and translator described him as ‘A curious mix of scepticism, politeness, dandyism, willpower, cleverness, despotism and, finally, a kind of special goodness and tenderness that always accompanies genius’. Centre is ‘Liberty Leading the People’ (1830). And right is ‘Hamlet with Horatio’ (1839).
In essence it is clear that Eugène Delacroix was a consequence of scandalous adultery in 1797 by his mother Victoire, the daughter of cabinet-maker Jean-François Oeben. She was married to the French statesman Charles-François Delacroix and had already borne him three sons some years beforehand, but he was known to be impotent, away abroad at the time of conception in any event, and seems to have been cuckolded by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1st Prince of Benevento, then Prince of Talleyrand). Known simply as ‘Talleyrand’, he was a family friend and also a French politician and diplomat (indeed he took over the post vacated by Charles-François Delacroix, then sent him off on a conveniently-distant posting in order to have the affair that resulted in Eugène). But, perhaps more importantly, Talleyrand was an ordained priest, the Bishop of Autun, Agent-General of the Clergy, and represented the Catholic Church in the French royal court. So he was a very naughty boy and indeed it is said that his name, Talleyrand, has become a byword for craftiness and cynical diplomacy. Notwithstanding that, he recognised young Eugène as his (apparently they were like two peas in a pod so his paternity was undeniable) and was subsequently the artist’s champion and protector. Fortunately the lad seems to have been rather less of a cad and bounder. And, perhaps even more fortunately, he was orphaned anyway by the time he was 16.
Left: ‘Orphan Girl at the Cemetary’ (1823). Right: ‘The Women of Algiers’ (1834).
Eugène Delacroix went to a Jesuit-run 6th form college then a secondary school where he was already winning awards for his drawings. At 19 he embarked on an apprenticeship under Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, a French baron and painter of note who was subsequently destined not long afterwards to become a director of the French Academy in Rome though he sadly almost died on arrival there.
Delacroix’s other influences included the artists Raphael and Michelangelo, the Venetian painters Paolo Veronese and Tintoretto, the English landscapists John Constable and Richard Parkes Bonington (who lived in France), Sir Thomas Lawrence (the 4th president of the Royal Society), the Flemish Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens and fellow Frenchman Théodore Géricault (whose ‘Raft of the Medusa’, which depicts one of the most infamous episodes in maritime history, had a significant impact – inspiring Delacroix’s own ‘Dante and Virgil in Hell’). But, artists apart, Delacroix was inspired by playwrights such as the German Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, William Shakespeare and Lord Byron. He was influenced by Sr Walter Scott (the Scottish historical novelist, playwright, poet and historian) and Victor Hugo (who wrote the novel ‘Les Misérables’). Music was a driver too (certainly Chopin, whom he knew, and Beethoven whom he didn’t).
The artist was not widely travelled but did go to Spain then North Africa (certainly Morocco and Algeria), and elements of the dress and culture permeate some of his work even when it ostensibly depicts scenes from Greek mythology. And he was fascinated by contemporary events such as the Greek War of Independence.
Not everyone liked what Delacroix painted. It was thought that some of his works were disturbingly grotesque.
Left: ‘Medea about to Kill Her Children’ (1838). She was a character in a play by Euripides. Right: ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’ (1827). He was the decadent 6th century King of Assyria who supposedly died in an orgy of destruction.
Delacroix never married, nor had children as far as we know. But he had a long-term relationship with a French artist and drawing professor artist Marie-Élisabeth Blavot-Boulanger (also known as Marie Monchablon and Madame Cavé). But ultimately he was to rely on his housekeeper Jenny Le Guillou. She was present at his death.
Left: ‘Christ on the Sea of Galilee’ (1841). Right: ‘Frédéric Chopin’ (1838).
In summary Eugène Delacroix was an interstitial artist, one who spans the gap between the world of the old masters and those responsible for modern art (which started in the 1860s).
You can easily and affordably buy unframed Delacroix prints. Try www.eugenedelacroix.net for example.
You'll want to frame whatever you buy. Any good framers will be able to show you a vast range of different solutions and advise on what might be the most suitable given the work and its proposed location.
EasyFrame is on 01234 856 501 and / or sales@EasyFrame.co.uk and they’ll always chat even if you don’t want to buy!
Left: ‘Tiger Playing with a Tortoise’ (1862). Right: ‘Dante and Virgil in Hell’ (1822).
Article Posted: 23/09/2020 08:46:21