Eugene Delacroix portrait (detail), by Félix Nadar

Eugene Delacroix /   Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix

France 1798 - 1863


Eugene Delacroix
Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix
August 4, 2016

Inspired by the great writers, notably Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Tasso, and Walter Scott, and with the use of expressive brushstrokes and experimentations with the optical effects, Eugène Delacroix painted cruel and exceptionally brutal episodes of ancient history recently retold by Lord Byron. This “master of color” announced the work of Impressionists and his passion for exotic was the main inspiration for the artists of the Symbolist movement. As the greatest representative of the Romanticism in art, he rejected the Neoclassical perfectionism, searching for the models in the expression of Rubens and artists of Venetian Renaissance. Delacroix chose to move away from the classical Greek and Roman ideals, finding his creative satisfaction in the Oriental visual language. Of crucial importance for both, his work and further development of art were his commitment to color effects instead of modeled form and clear outlines of his predecessors. His innovative approach, although offensive for the contemporary critics, earned the admiration and recognition of others, making him enjoyed a long and successful career.

Eugène Delacroix – A Jewish Wedding in Morocco, 1841 – Image via

Early Life and Literal Influences

Delacroix was born in 1798 at Charlenton-Saint-Maurice near Paris, as the fourth son of Charles Delacroix, a minister of foreign affairs who was on a mission to Holland at the time of his birth, and of Victorie Oeben who came from a family of artists and craftsmen. They both died early, leaving the young Delacroix with his older sister Henriette who was married to a former ambassador to Turkey. He was also under the protection of Talleyrand, a family friend who is considered to be his actual father. That has never been proved but the artist had significant resemblance in appearance and character with him. At the age of 17, he started his education at the Lycee Louis-le-Grand and the Lycee Pierre Corneille in Rouen and soon won awards for drawing. He took painting lessons from Pierre Guerin who has taught him in a classical manner of Jacques-Louis David which had little effect on Delacroix. More important for his artistic development were his visits to Louvre, where he met Richard Parkes Bonington and Raymond Soulier who have introduced him to the watercolor painting and British tradition of colorism, initiating his interest in literary sources, such as Shakespeare, Byron, and Scott. On the early beginnings of his style development, he experimented from the observing Michelangelo and Rubens, merging it with his classical training. Under the impression of Theodore Gericault (1791-1824) and his painting The Raft of the Medusa, Delacroix created his first major artwork, The Barque of Dante, that was accepted by the Salon in 1822. The same sensation and acceptance of the audience made his Massacre at Chios, two years later. Painted in a dark tone representing dying Greek civilians cruelly killed by the Turks, this painting marked Delacroix as a prime figure of the new Romantic style. The government purchased the work, although some critics have considered as controversial that kind of presenting suffering. He used this money to visit London where he expanded his fascination for English literature and art which affected the later change of freer interpretation of sky changes and distant landscapes. With his painting Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi, the artist one more time showed his support to the Greeks in their battle for the independence from the Turks. Inspired by the situation when the Turkish army captured Missolonghi in 1825, he painted a woman in a traditional costume with half-raised arms in the moment before the horrible event when the people decided to destroy their town and kill themselves rather than surrender to the Turks.

In 1822, Eugene Delacroix for the first time exhibited at Salon

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Eugène Delacroix – The Barque of Dante, 1822 – Image via

Liberty Leading the People

The trip to England encouraged Delacroix to paint his only full-length portrait of Louis-Auguste Schwiter. During this period, he started to experiment with the new techniques and to produce romantic works with the various themes that would follow him for the next thirty years. After all his relatively small format pieces, Delacroix created Death of Sardanapalus, exhibited at the Salon in 1827. This monumental painting of the death of the Assyrian king, with its bright colors of exotic costumes, was found its source in the play by Byron. Besides its shocking dimensions (154 × 195 inches), the foreground depiction of the struggle of the nude women whose throat is about to be cut was described as terrible fantasy involving death and lust. During the following years, the artist often created studies of lions and tigers, nudes, battles and oriental scenes. In 1830, inspired by the July revolution against Charles X, Delacroix painted his iconic work Liberty Leading the People where Parisians march forward under the flag, a symbol of liberty, equality and fraternity. Dealing with the modern subject on a more restrained way, his technique clearly reflects the difference between the Romanticism and Classical style. His Liberty is both allegorical goddess and the woman of the people, surrounded by fighters from the various social classes. For the first time, public and critics were united in praise of the artist who was awarded the Legion of Honor. The French government purchased the painting with the aim of displaying it in the throne room of the Palais du Luxembourg to celebrate the king, but after the Rebellion in 1832, it was returned to the artist. The painting was exhibited again at the Salon of 1855 and nineteen years later entered the permanent collection of Louvre.

His Liberty is both allegorical goddess and the woman of the people

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Eugène Delacroix – Liberty Leading the People, 1830 – Image via

Orientalism in the work of Eugene Delacroix

In 1832, after the French conquered Algeria, Delacroix visited Spain and North Africa, as a member of a diplomatic mission. Fascinated with the everything he saw, the artist filled seven large sketchbooks and created an album of eighteen watercolors with the studies of different places and Arab people. His interest in Orientalism created a special chapter in his career, leaving the mark on his whole future oeuvre. Although he had an intense relationship with the orient long before he set off for Morocco – the trace of it is visible through all his paintings, after being directly included in those people’s everyday lives, his imagination became fully occupied with new surroundings. He had the opportunity to attend a Jewish wedding which he drew in one of his sketchbooks, complete with a wealth of detailed note which helped him to, nine years later, paint A Jewish Wedding in Morocco, accepted by the Salon. This time, the critic complained that close look to the painting made the image become muddled and vague and that the eye is “unpleasantly distracted” by brush strokes in pink, yellow, and blue which “seemed to go in every direction”. As it happened, this negative review was exactly the description of the artist’s intentions, for he was trying to introduce a new relation between the painting and its subject.

When the French ambassador was received in the holy city by the Sultan of Morocco, Delacroix painted a portrait of the sultan and his favorite, Muchtar, surrounded by the king’s guards. When it was exhibited at the 1845 Salon, it was noted that the artist had recorded the exact scene, but truth was that he changed it a good deal, emphasizing the crowds at the city gate. Still, the history was re-invented not through a desire to falsify, but through a need to create a commemoration that would have an artistic rather than simply factual integrity. He would produce two smaller versions of this portrait in 1856 and 1862. On his way back to France, Delacroix stopped over in Algiers for three days where he conceived canvas entitled The Women of Algiers (1834), widely considered as one of his masterpieces. There is no solid evidence, but it is assumed that Arab man named Reis had allowed him to see his wives. The details of their clothing were carefully noted on his watercolor sketches: pearl-blue – black chalk – blue silk – green and white stripped – blue and pink. Back in Paris, he started on several preparatory studies, among them the great pastel Algerian Women Seated. On the final painting, his characters are constructed around dynamic balance between a classical composition, probably inspired by the Venetian masters he so much admired, and a dramatic use of vibrant colors that created a sensual and highly charged atmosphere. Delacroix’s technical solutions and stylistic means that seemed simpler but actually are more complex than in his earlier works announced the beginning of his mature style, quieter but grander and powerful, more monumental but less expressive.

The details of women’s clothing were carefully noted on his watercolor sketches

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Eugène Delacroix – The Women of Algiers, 1834 – Image via

Muralist and Fresco Painter

It is quite clear that his visit to Morocco helped him to develop a new approach to his art. He was convinced that people he saw there provided a visual equivalent to the ancient Greeks and Romans: “Romans and Greeks are here, outside my door… I have met them.” After he returned to France, Orient as a subject became second nature to Delacroix. He would create no less than eighty Orientalist paintings, of which fifteen depict imaginary hunting scenes. These bear out in particular his passion for horses that were the main protagonists on numerous works. He also loved themes of festivals, theater, and music. The fact is, nothing in Algiers and Morocco seems to have left Delacroix indifferent and anything could set off extraordinary pictorial digressions. Ecstatics of Tangiers (1857), View of Tangiers (1858) or even Arabs Playing Chess (1848) in which he invested the simple street scene with a rare, classical dignity.

During his latter part of his life and career, his work showed more concern with compositional structure and balance, reflected in carrying out of architectural decorations. From 1833, king Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III commissioned him to decorate several public buildings in Paris. For the next ten years, he worked at Salon du Roi in the Palais Bourbon and Palais Bourbon’s library where he covered parts of domes and pendentives with scenes celebrating arts and sciences, beginning with the image of Orpheus’ gift of civilization to mankind and ending with Attila’s destruction of Italy. At the same time, he painted the library of the Senate in the Luxembourg Palace. In the central dome, the artist placed the symbolic scene of the encounter of the classical pagan with the modern Christian culture. There followed the decoration of Galerie d’Apollon in the Louvre, Salon de la Paix of the Hotel de Ville of Paris and the frescoes at Chapelle des Anges at the Church of St Sulpice in Paris. Delacroix was the only painter of his time who had an opportunity to create this kind of monumental pieces and to triumph in public spaces. It also provided him the chance to get close to the masters he admired, Veronese, Tintoretto, and Rubens. His value rested on his mastery of color that provided both emotional power and formal structure for his murals and frescoes.

The artist had several commissions to decorate public buildings in Paris

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Eugène Delacroix – The Fight between Jacob and the Angel, St Sulpice Chapel, Paris, 1850-1861 (Left) / Detail (Right) – Image via

Legacy of Eugene Delacroix

In 1855, The Universal Exposition exhibited thirty-six of his paintings along with Ingres’, as a tribute to two most important living artists. Frequently ill suffering from bronchial infections, besides his Parisian home, the artist spent more and more time in his cottage in Champrosay. Eugène Delacroix died on August 13, 1863, in Paris and was buried in Piere Lachaise Cemetery. He never got tired of the subjects he took back from Maghreb and just a few months before his death, he painted the Arabs Skirmishing in the Mountains. In 1862 he participated in the founding of the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts. After his death, the society organized a retrospective exhibition of his 248 paintings and lithographs. In total, 9140 works were attributed to the artist, including 853 paintings, 1525 pastels and watercolors, 6629 drawings, 109 lithographs, and over 60 sketchbooks. Delacroix’s paintings permanently changed the art world, directly affecting and deeply influencing Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movements. He is regarded as one of the most significant French Romantic painters who shaped the future of painting.

Featured image: Eugene Delacroix’s portrait (detail), by Félix Nadar

YearExhibition titleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Origines et horizon. La Collection d'art Nestlé Musée Jenisch, VeveyGroup
2016Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art The National Gallery, LondonSolo
2015An Eye for Excellence: Twenty Years of Collecting The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MAGroup
2015Painters Of Normandy. Delacroix, Courbet, Renoir, Monet And Others Centrum Kultury Zamek,PoznanGroup
2015Delacroix’s Influence, The Rise of Modern Art from Cézanne to van Gogh The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MNGroup
2014LOOKING DOWN FROM ABOVE: THE BIRD’S EYE VIEW Germanisches Nationalmuseum,NurembergGroup
2014Marks of Genius: 100 Extraordinary Drawings from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, MIGroup
2013Delacroix and the Matter of Finish Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CASolo
2013Difficult Art and the Liberal Arts Imagination Cohen Memorial Hall , Nashville, TNGroup
2013Normandy's Painters KUNSTEN Museum of Modern Art, AalborgGroup
2012Passionnément Musée Fesch, AjaccioGroup
2012Eugène Delacroix. Des fleurs en hiver Othoniel, Creten Musée du Louvre, ParisGroup
2012Oriental Mirages, Pomegranates and Prickly Pears Collection Lambert, AvignonGroup
2012Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present The National Gallery, LondonGroup
2012Science & Fiction, A laboratory of drawing Katz Contemporary, ZurichGroup
2012Medieval to Monet The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CTGroup
2012Drawn to Excellence: Renaissance to Romantic Drawings from a Private Collection Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MAGroup
2011Eugène Delacroix CaixaForum Madrid, MadridSolo
2011Drawings by British and European Artists 1600 1900 Thos. Agnew's and Sons Ltd., LondonGroup
2011Infinite Jest, Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine The Metropolitan Museum of Art,New York City, NYGroup
2011Passion and Precision in the Age of Revolution Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, MAGroup
2010Impressionist Gardens Museo Thyssen Bornemisza, MadridGroup
2010European Masters: 19th, 20th century art from the Städel Museum Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, WellingtonGroup
2010Die Natur der Kunst: Begegnungen mit der Natur vom 19. Jahrhundert bis in die Gegenwart Kunstmuseum Winterthur, WinterthurGroup
2009Une passion pour Delacroix : la collection Karen B. Cohen Musée du Louvre, ParisSolo
2009Géricault Delacroix Daumier und Zeitgenossen. Französische Lithographien und Zeichnungen des 19. Jahrhunderts Museum im Prediger, Schwäbisch GmündGroup
2009Capolavori della modernità. La collezione del Kunstmuseum Winterthur Museo d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, RoveretoGroup
2009Printmaking in the age of Romanticism Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, NSWGroup
2008Picasso Delacroix : Femmes d'Alger Musée du Louvre, ParisGroup
2008once upon a time Yvon Lambert, Paris, ParisGroup
2008Satire and Society, Honoré Daumier and French Lithography Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University, MiddletownGroup
2008Masterpiece Replayed: Monet, Matisse and More Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZGroup
2007The hand drawn nagative Peter Freeman, Inc., New York City, NYGroup
2007Delacroix et les compagnons de sa jeunesse : Géricault, Bonington, Huet, Barye… Musée du Louvre, ParisGroup
2007Omaggio a Capodimonte Castel Sant’Elmo, NaplesGroup
2006Eugène Delacroix and North Africa The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, ILSolo
2006Delacroix and the Horse Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, The Clark, Williamstown, MASolo
2006Memento Mori Mireille Mosler Ltd., New York City, NYGroup
2006Treasures from the Lucas Collection The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MDGroup
2006Portraits publics, portraits privés 1770 1830 Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, ParisGroup
2005Mit Bleistift Städel Museum, FrankfurtGroup
2005Breaking the Mold, Sculpture in Paris from Daumier to Rodin Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, New Brunswick, NJGroup
2005Mélancolie Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, ParisGroup
2004Masters of the Medium Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, FLGroup
2004Passion for Drawing: Poussin to Cézanne, Works from the Prat Collection Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LACMA, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2004Delacroix to Munch: 19C Visions, Nagoya Boston Museum of Fine Arts, NagoyaGroup
2003Eugène Delacroix Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, KarlsruheSolo
2003Die Kronberger Malerkolonie. Aquarelle, Zeichnungen, Graphik Museum Kronberger Malerkolonie, Kronberg im TaunusGroup
2003The Eunice and Hal David Collection of 19th and 20th Century Works on Paper UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2003Shakespeare nell´arte Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara, FEGroup
2002The Imagination on Edge: European Prints from 1745 to 1901, The Fralin Museum of Art University of Virginia Art Museums, Charlottesville, VAGroup
2002Masterworks from El Greco to Picasso in The Phillips Collection Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Houston, TXGroup
2001The Myth and Madness of Ophelia Amherst College, Amherst, MAGroup
2001Corot to Picasso Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Stanford, CAGroup
2001Grands maîtres des XIXe et XXe siècles Galerie Schmit, ParisGroup
2001Female Form Simon C Dickinson Ltd, LondonGroup
2000Works on Paper Simon C Dickinson Ltd, LondonGroup
2000Pissarro and Other Masters Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MAGroup
1999Neo Classicim to Barbizon Wildenstein & Co Ltd, LondonGroup
1999The Timeless Eye. Master Drawings from the Jan and Marie Anne Krugier Poniatowski Collection Peggy Guggenheim Collection, VeniceGroup
1998Delacroix, the late work Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PASolo
1998Eugène Delacroix Kunsthalle Bremen, BremenSolo
1998Delacroix, les dernières années Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, ParisSolo
1998Delacroix, les dernières années Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PASolo
1998Vive La France Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, SAGroup
1998Orientalism Auckland Art Gallery, AucklandGroup
1996Zeichnen ist Sehen Hamburger Kunsthalle, HamburgGroup
1995French art Mie Prefectural Art Museum, Tsu CityGroup
1995Entre le ciel et l'eau Musée d'art contemporain, BordeauxGroup
1993Azur Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, ParisGroup
1992Delacroix: Studio Practice Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PASolo
1991Eugène Delacroix (1798 1863), paintings, drawings, and prints from North American collections The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NYSolo
1988Obras Maestras de la Colección Phillips de Washington Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, MadridGroup
1988Meisterwerke aus der Phillips Collection Washington Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt am MainGroup
1988Masterworks from The Phillips Collection, Washington Hayward Gallery, LondonGroup
1987Eugène Delacroix Kunsthaus Zürich, ZurichSolo
1987The Art of Drawing in France 1400 1900 The Drawing Center, New York City, NYGroup
1985Dürer to Delacroix: Great Master Drawings from Stockholm The National Gallery of Art,Washington, DCGroup
1984The Orientalists: Delacroix to Matisse, The Allure of North Africa and the Near East The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DCGroup
1983Goya, Gericault, and Delacroix The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OHGroup
1982Von Coubert bis Cezanne, Französische Malerei 1848 1886 Alte Nationalgalerie, BerlinGroup
1979Past Exhibitions French Romanticism The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DCGroup
1977From Delacroix to Cezanne : French watercolor landscapes of the nineteenth century University of Maryland Art Gallery, College Park, MDGroup
1969French Primitive Photography Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PAGroup
1968Giacometti & French Figure Drawings of the 19th and 20th Cenury George Adams Gallery,New York City, NYGroup
1965From Delacroix to Picasso Alte Nationalgalerie, BerlinGroup
1965He Romantic Era: Birth And Flowering 1750 1850 Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA),Indianapolis, INGroup
1963Eugène Delacroix, National Gallery of Canada Musée des beaux arts du Canada, Ottawa, ONSolo
1957Works from the Collections of Sir Edward and Lady Hulton Tate Britain, LondonGroup
1955Delacroix in New England Collections Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MASolo
1953Eugene Delacroix, aquarelles, dessins, pastel Galerie Nina Dausset, ParisSolo
1953Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Paintings from the Edward G. Robinson Collection The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DCGroup
1945Prints From The Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA),Indianapolis, INGroup
1943Prints by Eugene Delacroix The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, ILSolo
1942The Horse In Art Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), Indianapolis, INGroup
1939Eugène Delacroix Kunsthaus Zürich, ZurichSolo
1939Paintings and Drawings by Gros, Gericault and Delacroix Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, MOGroup
1936Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NYGroup
1936Modern Painters and Sculptors as Illustrators Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NYGroup
1933Gemäldeausstellung alter Meister Kunstverein in Hamburg, HamburgGroup
1925Fifth Annual Exhibition of The Dallas Art Association at Stoneleigh Court Dallas Museum of Art,Dallas, TXGroup
1921Second Annual American and European Art Exhibition Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TXGroup
1913Französische Kunst des 19. Jahrhunderts Galerie Heinemann, MunichGroup
1913International Exhibition of Modern Art 69th Regiment Armory, New York City, NYGroup
1829Bremischen Kunstverein veranstalteten KunstAusstellung im Hörsaale der gelehrten Schule Kunsthalle Bremen, BremenGroup