Finding Inspiration in the World’s Great Art



Self-portrait 1837.

Self-portrait 1860.

Christ on the Sea of Galilee, 1854.

By Bruce Menzies

Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) was a Romantic (see below) 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 his intensive brushstrokes and his study of the optical effects of color profoundly shaped the work of the Impressionists.

According to the Musée National Eugène-­Delacroix (Paris), Monet was a big fan of Dela­croix, and frequently walked by his studio in Paris, hoping to catch a glimpse of his shadow while he worked. Edgar Degas loved Delacroix’s art so much that he had a collection of more than 250 of his painting. Paul Cézanne, in referring to Delacroix, simply said, “We all paint in him.”

As a painter, Delacroix was regarded by some as one of the greatest painters of the first half of the 19th century. As a lithographer, he illustrated works of William Shakespeare, author Walter Scott, and others. Finally, as a draughtsman, he was qualified in mechanical drawing, employed to prepare detailed scale drawings of machinery, buildings, devices, etc.

The year 1882 was a memorial year for Delacroix as he submitted his very first painting to the Paris Salon. The Barque of Dante, inspired by Dante’s Inferno, the artwork immediately caught the attention of critics, and was eventually purchased by the State for the Luxem-bourg Galleries. Delacroix incarnated a new generation of artists qualified as Romantic, a term inspired by literature. Like his contemporary Victor Hugo, Delacroix had a deep knowledge of the art of the Old Masters. (Delacroix is considered one of the last Old Masters of painting, and one of the few who was ever photographed.)

Probably Delacroix’s most recognizable painting, Liberty Leading the People, is an image of Parisians, having taken up arms against Charles X, marching forward to battle, representing liberty and equality. This painting was submitted to the Paris Salon in 1831 and purchased by the government and exhibited at the Museum of Luxembourg, which then was a museum for living artists.

In his later career, Delacroix became one of the most distinguished mural painters in the history of French art. His Jacob Wrestling with the Angel and The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple (both at the Chapel of the Holy Angels in the Paris church of Saint-Sulpice), are among his grandiose creations.

Delacroix’s output was enormous. According to The Oxford Diction-ary of Art, after his death his executors found more than 9,000 separate works in his studio, including several hundred paintings and more than 6,000 drawings. He drew every day, like a musician practicing scales, and he prided himself on the speed at which he worked. His studio in Paris is now a museum devoted to his life and work, but the Louvre has the finest collection of his paintings. ■

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Eugène Delacroixlast of the Old Masters

Photo 1842.

Photo by Félix Nadar 1858.

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Liberty leading the people, 1830.

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Crucifixion, 1845.

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Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, 1861.

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