Sunday, 27 April 2014


“The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing.” - Eugène Delacroix

Eugène Delacroix (1798 – 1863) was a French painter and draughtsman. His father was a minister of foreign affairs, and later, ambassador during the French revolution. Rumour has it that Eugène’s real father was the prominent diplomat Talleyrand. In 1815 he became the pupil of the French painter Pierre-Narcisse Guerin and began a career that would make him one of the greatest and most influential of French painters. He is most often classified as an artist of the Romantic school. His remarkable use of color was later to influence impressionist painters and even modern artists such as Pablo Picasso.

In 1822 Delacroix submitted his first picture to the important Paris Salon exhibition: “Dante and Virgil in Hell”. A technique used in this work (many unblended colours forming what at a distance looks like a unified whole) would later be used by the impressionists. His next Salon entry was in 1824: “Massacre at Chios”. With great vividness of color and strong emotion it pictured an incident in which 20,000 Greeks were killed by Turks on the island of Chios. The French government purchased it for 6,000 francs.

He was influenced by the work of Rubens and Veronese and later by that of Velàzquez and Goya. In 1825 he spent a few months in England, where he was inspired by the poet Lord Byron and the landscape painter Constable. An inheritance and good contacts in higher circles enabled him to fully focus on his work as an artist. Most of his work is historic, with subjects such as classical battles. After a journey through Spain, Algeria and Morocco (1832) his work paid much attention to exoticism and orientalism - typical romantic subjects. Besides painting he also illustrated several book publications, such as the works of Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott and Goethe.

Between 1827 and 1832 Delacroix seemed to produce one masterpiece after another. He again used historical themes in “The Battle of Nancy” and “The Battle of Poitiers”. The poetry of Lord Byron inspired a painting for the 1827 Salon, “Death of Sardanapalus”. Delacroix also created a set of 17 lithographs to illustrate a French edition of Goethe’s “Faust”. The French revolution of 1830 inspired the famous “Liberty Guiding the People”, which was the last of Delacroix's paintings that truly embodied the romantic ideal. He found new inspiration on a trip to Morocco in 1832. The ancient, proud, and exotic culture moved him to write “I am quite overwhelmed by what I have seen.”

In the history of art Delacroix is relevant because of the example he set for the impressionists. He used a rough but swinging brushstroke, experimented with colours and light and sometimes neglected proper use of perspective: All typical elements of the impressionist style. Some see him as the link between the classic style of the old masters and the modern movements that arose in the 19th century.

Eugène Delacroix died in 1863 and was buried at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. He created over 850 oil paintings and more than 2000 drawings and watercolours. Among his works were many with a religious subject, tempting some to consider this worldly Parisian the most important religious artist of the 19th century. The subjects of his religious works were mainly well-known themes from the New Testament: “Agony in the Garden”, “Christ on the Cross”, “Lamentation/Pietà”, “The Good Samaritan”, to name a few.

The illustration is from Delacroix’s Morocco Sketchbooks, 1832. Like many artists, Delacroix rapidly sketched striking images during his travels in pocket sketchbooks that he carried with him. Many of these sketches provided a ready source of visual material and ideas that would be developed further and some would lead to large scale finished paintings.


  1. How wonderful it would be to leaf through those sketchbooks!

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