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Eugene Delacroix – French Romanticist Painter

 

Eugene Delacroix – French Romanticist Painter laid the foundations for Impressionism. In addition to being regarded as the leader of the French Romantic School .

Inspired by the Venetian Renassiance painters with their emphasis on color and movement, Delacroix ‘s romantic, often dramatic themes were modelled on the exotic elements of North Africa. A profund and pronounced change from the artistic status quo of his day, which favored Classical Greek and Roman references.

Another inspiration was the English poet Lord Byron, with whom Delacroix felt a “spiritual kinship.” Both identifiying with “forces of the sublime” in nature.

Delacroix was also a talented lithographer who illustrated various works by Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott and Goethe.

Wikipedia continues the story of Romantic Painter Eugene Delacroix:

“Delacroix was born at Charenton (Saint-Maurice, Val-de-Marne), in Île-de-France, near Paris.

There is reason to believe that his father, Charles-François 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 successor of Charles Delacroix as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and whom the adult Eugène resembled in appearance and character. Throughout his career as a painter, he was protected by Talleyrand, who served successively theRestoration and king Louis-Philippe, and ultimately as ambassador of France in Great Britain, and later by Talleyrand’s grandson, Charles Auguste Louis Joseph, duc de Morny, half-brother of Napoleon III and speaker of the French House of Commons. His father, Charles Delacroix, died in 1805, and his mother Victoire (daughter of Jean-François Oeben) in 1814, leaving 16-year-old Eugene an orphan.

His early education was at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, and at the Lycée Pierre Corneille in Rouen 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. An early church commission, The Virgin of the Harvest, (1819), displays a Raphael-esque influence, but another such commission, The Virgin of the Sacred Heart, (1821), evidences a freer interpretation  It precedes the influence of the more colourful 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.

The impact of Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa was profound, and stimulated Delacroix to produce his first major painting, The Barque of Dante, which was accepted by the Paris Salon in 1822. The work caused a sensation, and was largely derided by the public and officialdom, yet was purchased by the State for the Luxembourg Galleries; the pattern of widespread opposition to his work, countered by a vigorous, enlightened support, would continue throughout his life. Two years later he again achieved popular success for his The Massacre at Chios.

Chios and Missolonghi

Delacroix’s painting of the massacre at Chios 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; the artist Antoine-Jean Gros 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. A viewing of the paintings of John Constable and the watercolour sketches and art of Richard Parkes Bonnington prompted Delacroix to make extensive, freely painted changes to the sky and distant landscape.

Delacroix produced a second painting in support of the Greeks in their war for independence, this time referring to the capture of Missolonghi by Turkish forces in 1825.  With a restraint of palette appropriate to the allegory, Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi displays a woman in Greek costume with her breast bared, arms half-raised in an imploring gesture before 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 been crushed by rubble. 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.

Romanticism

A trip to England in 1825 included visits to Thomas Lawrence and Richard Parkes Bonington, and the colour and handling of English painting provided impetus for his only full-length portrait, the elegant Portrait of Louis-Auguste Schwiter, (1826–30).  At roughly the same time, Delacroix was creating romantic works of numerous themes, many of which would continue to interest him for over thirty years. By 1825, he was producing lithographs illustrating Shakespeare, and soon thereafter lithographs and paintings from Goethe’s Faust. Paintings such as The Combat of the Giaour and Hassan, (1826), and Woman with Parrot, (1827), introduced subjects of violence and sensuality which would prove to be recurrent.

These various romantic strands came together in the Death of Sardanapalus, (1827-8). Delacroix’s painting of the death of the Assyrian kingSardanapalus 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.

A variety of Romantic interests were again synthesized in The Murder of the Bishop of Liège, (1829). It also borrowed from a literary source, this time Scott, and depicts a scene from theMiddle Ages, that of the murder of Louis de Bourbon, Bishop of Liège amidst an orgy sponsored by his captor, William de la Marck. Set in an immense vaulted interior which Delacroix based on sketches of the Palais de Justice in Rouen and Westminster Hall, the drama plays out in chiaroscuro, organized around a brilliantly lit stretch of tablecloth. In 1855, a critic described the painting’s vibrant handling as “Less finished than a painting, more finished than a sketch, The Murder of the Bishop of Liège was left by the painter at that supreme moment when one more stroke of the brush would have ruined everything”.Liberty Leading the People

Main article: 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. Less obviously, it also differs from the Romanticism of Géricault and the Raft of the Medusa.

“Delacroix felt his composition more vividly as a whole, thought of his figures and crowds as types, and dominated them by the symbolic figure of Republican Liberty which is one of his finest plastic inventions…”

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, equality, and fraternity; 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 bring in 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, Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III). Traditionally, it has been visible in the Louvre museum in Paris; beginning December, 2012, it has been on exhibit at Louvre-Lens in Lens, Pas-de-Calais.

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.

Travel to North Africa

Sultan of Morocco, (1845), Musée des AugustinsToulouse, France

In 1832, Delacroix traveled to Spain and North Africa, as part of a diplomatic mission to Morocco shortly after the French conquered Algeria. He went not primarily to study art, but to escape from the civilization of Paris, in hopes of seeing a more primitive culture.  He eventually produced over 100 paintings and drawings of scenes from or based on the life of the people of North Africa, and added a new and personal chapter to the interest in Orientalism.  Delacroix was entranced by the people and the costumes, and the trip would inform the subject matter of a great many of his future paintings. He believed that the North Africans, in their attire and their attitudes, provided a visual equivalent to the people of Classical Rome and Greece:

“The Greeks and Romans are here at my door, in the Arabs who wrap themselves in a white blanket and look like Cato or Brutus…”[13]

He managed to sketch some women secretly in Algiers, as in the painting Women of Algiers in their Apartment (1834), but generally he encountered difficulty in finding Muslim women to pose for him because of Muslim rules requiring that women be covered. Less problematical was the painting of Jewish women in North Africa, as subjects for the Jewish Wedding in Morocco (1837–41).

While in Tangier, Delacroix made many sketches of the people and the city, subjects to which he would return until the end of his life. Animals—the embodiment of romantic passion—were incorporated into paintings such as Arab Horses Fighting in a Stable (1860), The Lion Hunt (of which there exist many versions, painted between 1856 and 1861), and Arab Saddling his Horse (1855).

Read more HERE about French Romantic Painter Eugene Delacroix