Eugene Delacroix was the major painter of the Romantic
Movement in France. He was the pupil of Baron Guerin (who also taught
Gericault), whose lack of artistic authority made his studio tolerant of new
ideas. Delacroix was the ardent admirer rather than an intimate friend of
Gericault, but in the grim year which preceded his death was a frequent visitor
to the dying man's studio. To Gericault's influence is probably due Delacroix's
interest in English art and in animal painting, and his revolt from the classicizing
forms and classical literary subjects which still dominated French painting in
the early i9th century. He admired Gros, studied Rubens and Veronese, and
was a friend of Bonington and an admirer of Constable. He was in England in
1825 and saw the RA exhibition where he was much impressed by the charm
of English colour and freshness of handling, particularly in landscape, and by
the predominance of medieval and anecdotal subject pictures.
His first Salon exhibit, Dante and Virgil Crossing the Styx (1822: Paris, Louvre),
was well received, but subsequent ones - the Massacre at Chios, 1824, and the
Sardanapalus, 1829 (both now in the Louvre) — were bitterly attacked for his
use of brilliant colour, contemporary and exotic literary subjects, and free
handling, which was seen as showing the influence of Gericault and English
art, and as a rejection of traditional French classicism.
In 1832 he visited North
Africa and this opened a whole new field of subjects: scenes from Arab and
Jewish life, animal subjects, innumerable combinations of illustrations to Byron
and allusions to the Greek wars against the Turks abound in his gigantic oeuvre
after this, and share the honours with Scott and Shakespeare as constant
sources of inspiration.
From the mid-1830s he was in official favour, receiving
commissions for large-scale decorations in which Ingres, his greatest rival and
inveterate opponent, was unsuccessful. His principal decorations were the Justice
of Trajan for Rouen Town Hall (1840: now Rouen Mus.), the ceiling of the
Salon d'Apollon in the Louvre (1849), and works in St Sulpice, and the Hotel
de Ville (destroyed in 1870). Nevertheless, the works he was happiest with are
small, freely handled, colourful subjects - battles, hunts, animals in combat, and
portraits of intimate friends such as Chopin (1838: Louvre).
His Diary, kept
from 1822 to 1824, and again from 1847 to 1863, is a precious source for his
life and work, and as a commentary on the social, intellectual and artistic life
of Paris. Delacroix only occasionally took pupils, and never taught in the sense
that Ingres did, though he had assistants for his large decorations. He left no
artistic succession, for the essence of Romanticism is its personal quality. His
contribution to the struggle of the non-conforming artist against entrenched
classicism is reflected in his long wait for election to the Institut (1857), the
frequent battles over the admission of his works to the Salon, and the veneration
in which he was held by younger artists.
There are works in Baltimore (Walters),
Birmingham, Bordeaux, Boston (Mus., Gardner), Bristol, Budapest, Buffalo,
Cambridge (Fitzwm), Cambridge Mass. (Fogg), Chantilly, Chicago, Cincinnati,
Cleveland Ohio, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hartford Conn. (Wadsworth),
Lille, London (NG, Wallace Coll.), Los Angeles, Melbourne, Metz, Minneapolis, Montpellier, Montreal, Munich, New York (Met. Mus., Brooklyn),
Northampton Mass. (Smith), North Carolina (Univ.), Ottawa, Paris (Mus.
d'Orsay, Camavalet), Philadelphia (Mus. and Johnson), Princeton (Univ.),
Reims, St Louis, Sao Paulo, Toledo Ohio, Toronto, Toulouse, Versailles,
Vienna and Washington (NG, Corcoran, Phillips).