Eugene Delacroix was a French painter and graphic artist, leader of Romanticism movement in French painting, whose experiments with coloring had an important influence on shaping of Impressionism.
Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix was bor on April, 26, 1798, in at Charenton-Saint-Maurice near Paris. His father, Charles-François Delacroix, was a statesman but biographers of Delcroix doubt his paternity. They presume he was a natural son of Charles Talleyrand, who was always patronizing the artist.
Eugene received a classical education at the elite Lycée Louis-le-Gran. 16 years old he was left as an orphan and entered the studio of Pierre-Narcisse Guerin, in 1817 – Ecole des Beaux Arts. In Louvre he was copying old masters, giving preference to Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Velazquez, Michelangelo Buonarroti. Among his contemporaries, the young artist appreciated works by Antoine Groz and especially by Theodore Gericault, whose friend and follower of romantic traditions he became.
In the Delacroix’s the key to success and fame was official Salon. Recognition there opened the road to prosperity and prestigious and profitable commissions
If early works of the painter on religious topic (like “The Virgin of the Sacred Heart”) were largely of imitative character, after “The Barque of Dante” his authentic and audacious talent revealed itself. Exposed in the Salon of 1822 among conservative classicistic canvases, this painting produced an effect of “meteorite that has fallen in a stagnant bog”, captivating with passionate pathetic of its characters. The plot of the work was a scene from “The divine comedy” of Dante Alighieri master asked to read him aloud while working. He tried to express the fear of the sin’s sufferings.
Reference to the contemporaneity (as well as escapism from it on later stages) was an important feature of romanticists. And here Delacroix absolutely kept in step with his time – in 1824 he created “The Massacre at Chios” and “Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi” in 1826, both dedicated to the fight of Greeks for their national independence. Their composition and rhythmic organization is defined by freeness and dynamism; color started playing the first role for the artist. He adhered the technique of multiple separate brushstrokes that vivified the painting surface, from the artist he admired a lot – John Constable.
Romanticism in Delacroix’s legacy
Historical painting was traditionally considered major genre in the Salon, but not all pieces received positive appraisal of the academics. It had to correspond several strict demands. First of all, these requirements concerned to the subjects that were allowed to be interpreted in a painting – mainly allegorical, mythological, biblical scenes and events from ancient history and described in classical literature. Delacroix demonstratively broke most of these rules. He didn’t conform the notion a historical painting had to be “lofty”. This condition set a certain pathos of a theme – it had to be heroic, tragic or didactic. All “mean”, “rough” and “vulgar” was turned down. But this was the case with some of Eugene’s pictures. For instance, “The Massacre at Chios” didn’t appeal to a the adherents of classicistic traditions for the absence of examples of personal heroism and exaggeration (in their judgment) brutality, violence and anguish.
Another important trend that emerged during Romanticism was exoticism. Its signs in Eugene Delacroix’s art appeared in “The death or Sardanapalus”. A classicist painter would aspire for accurate and precise representation of an interior and architectural details, but Delacroix depicted an obscure, cave-like place with walls seemed to vanish in gloomy haze. The canvas was considered by critics as defiantly voluptuous and savage.
The high point of Romanticism in the oeuvre of the master is “Liberty Leading the People” (1830-1831), created under the impression from the revolt in Paris in July of 1830. Though it doesn’t contain too much personages, it seems the whole Paris came out on the barricade. Delacroix felt himself a flesh from the flesh of liberate France, so he even painted himself among the rebels. He was attracted with powerful characters, dramatic life stories, uplifted spirit of human fighting against circumstances and elements. So master tried to introduce this atmosphere into battle scenes (“The Battle of Poitiers”, “The Battle of Nancy”, “The Entry of the Crusaders in Constantinople”) and literary scenes, mainly from Goethe, William Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Byron. The latter three enchanted him during his travel to England in 1825.
Interest to bright individualities stimulated development of portrait. Curiously, Eugene was mostly attracted by creative people as portraits of Niccolo Paganini, Frederik Chopin, George Sand and Hector Berlioz witness.
The Arabic theme in French art is often mistakenly called the oriental one. Eugene Delacroix had a Moroccan period. He travelled across Morocco for two years (1831-1832) as a part of official diplomatic mission of France. As a result, he made sketches and painting of way of life in the North Africa that differed considerably from bourgeois mode of life and habits in Europe: “Moroccan family”, “Lion hunt in Morocco”, “A Jewish wedding in Morocco”, “Arab soldier by a grave”. It was the world, stuck in the past, secluded and patriarchal. Time seemed to be frozen there and nothing reminded of Western culture. Therefore, the artist had to choose scenes with at least impetuous motion or with hints at a story behind the image.
In the responses on the Eugene Delacroix’s works of 1820s it was often said that they were more like giant sketches then completed paintings. Prevailing in the Salon pieces in academic style was licked finished. All hues were delicately smoothed, all contours were extremely precise and even looking close at them couldn’t ruin their naturalism and life-likeness. The canvases of Delacroix should be viewed from the distance as after close examination they appeared slipshod and roughly rendered. It can be partly explained by the temperament of the master himself, as he always worked quickly, effusively. He was usually thinking over subject and composition for a long time, made dozens of drafts, but after taking a brush into hands set off immediately, trying to capture emotions that seized him.
Delacroix believed the main thing in the painting is its mood. It was almost the main romantic principle. Once he wrote about the process of creation “I can see that my turbulent mind needs agitation, needs to free itself, to try a hundred different things before reaching the goal whose tyrannous call everywhere torments me. There is an old leaven, a black depth that demands satisfaction. If I am not quivering like a snake in the hands of a Pythoness, I am cold…”.
In 1840s Eugene became interested in then-innovative idea of complementary colors. Chemist Michel-Eugene Chevreul noticed that the intensity of a color depended not so much on the amount of a pigment, as on the color of the neighboring color. His treaty “ The Laws of Contrast of Color” helped the painter to achieve this unique harmony of colors his pieces are distinguished by.
Eugene Delacroix is one of the last greatest monumental painters in history of art. Three ensembles of murals belongs to his authorship: the ceiling in the Galerie d’Apollon of the Louvre (1850), “Peace Descends to Earth” in the town hall of Paris (burnt down during the Commune in 1871) and two grandiose compositions for church of Saint-Sulpice (1861) – “Expulsion Of Heliodorus From The Temple” and “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel”.
Delacroix fruitfully worked in graphic arts. It’s enough to say that his series of lithographs was approved by Goethe himself. The painter’s journal he was keeping since 1822, evidences his gift of a writer – it’s a priceless chronicle of cultural atmosphere of the epoch.
Eugene had a significant impact on the young generations, on impressionists particularly, but was treated suspiciously in the official circles. He became a member of the Academy of Fine arts only in 1857, after seven previous unsuccessful attempts. His many-sided genius makes him equal to some of the prominent Renaissance masters.
Eugene Delacroix died on August, 13, 1863, in Paris.