Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix 1798 – 1863

Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix, was a French Romantic artist regarded from the outset of his career as the leader of the French Romantic school. As a painter and muralist, Delacroix’s use of expressive brushstrokes and his study of the optical effects of colour profoundly shaped the work of the Impressionists, while his passion for the exotic inspired the artists of the Symbolist movement. A fine lithographer, Delacroix illustrated various works of William Shakespeare, the Scottish author Walter Scott and the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Delacroix took for his inspiration the art of Rubens and painters of the Venetian Renaissance, with an attendant emphasis on colour and movement rather than clarity of outline and carefully modelled form. Dramatic and romantic content characterized the central themes of his maturity, and led him not to the classical models of Greek and Roman art, but to travel in North Africa, in search of the exotic.

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 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.

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. Although Delacroix was inspired by contemporary events to invoke this romantic image of the spirit of liberty, he seems to be trying to convey the will and character of the people, rather than glorifying the actual event, the 1830 revolution against Charles X, which did little other than bring a different king, Louis-Philippe, to power.

In 1832, Delacroix travelled 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 winter of 1862-63 was extremely rough for Delacroix; he was suffering from a bad throat infection which seemed to get worse during the winter. On a trip to Champrosay, he met a friend on the train and he was so exhausted after having a conversation. On June 1st he returned to Paris to see his doctor. On June 16, he was getting better and returned to his house in the country. On July 15, he was so sick he went back to see his doctor who realized he could not do anything more for him, by then, the only food he could eat was fruit. Eugene realized his condition and wrote his Will. On August 13, Eugene Delacroix died.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.