Modern Art: Being a Contribution to a New System of Aesthetics - Vol. 1

By Julius Meier-Graefe; Florence Simmonds et al. | Go to book overview
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Wir sind vielleicht zu antik gewesen
Nun wollen wir es moderner lesen


To write adequately about Delacroix would be to relate the whole history of modern art. If I devote but one short chapter to him here, it is partly because the whole compass of this work would be not too great to appreciate him worthily, partly, indeed, because my book deals with little else but the results of his art and of his ideas. The brief notes that follow are designed merely to call the reader's attention to certain important aspects of Delacroix' art, on which I shall dwell in greater detail elsewhere, in connection with other artists. He lurks in all of them. Just as there is a touch of Goethe in most of the poets of the nineteenth century, so Delacroix was the spirit who communicated some particle of himself to all the important painters of his age. Yet no great Frenchman is so little appreciated out of France. To appreciate him fully it is perhaps essential to be a Frenchman. No German gallery owns any of his works. Thanks to the English colourists of his day, he is somewhat better known on this side of the Channel. There are a few good pictures by him in the Wallace collection, and in the Ionides collection at South Kensington. But even here his art has never been seriously considered. His compatriots undervalued him, even after he had become famous. He had a great deal more than passion and rhetoric, and, indeed, I am not sure that the latter-day cynics who question the reality of his pathos are not more right than they suppose, and that the heart whose wild pulsations we seem to feel in his pictures was not associated with a perfectly cool head. The hasty judgment that ascribes everything to the familiar dæmon, is as erroneous in his case as in that of many another great man. The important thing to realise is that he had a great intellect, that he was cold enough to evolve a rational standard from his wishes and emotions, warm enough to soar above this standard by his power. He could paint. He grasped at mighty things; Dante spoke to him before his beard had grown. There was need of this mighty force to strike down Classicism, which threatened to become a draughtsman's speciality. Painting needed the impetus he gave it to carry it along into our century. And he it was who laid that tragic element in its cradle, with which it is struggling for life to-day.

We may say perhaps that he was the last great painter who was a man of profound culture. We stand before his earliest portrait of himself and are thrilled by the painting, astounded at the energy of the brushing and also of the face it has evoked.

Of his private life I will only say that he wrote marvellous letters, and kept a journal which should be a sort of Bible for young painters.

Enthusiasm is clarified by contemplation of Delacroix. For George Sand and


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Modern Art: Being a Contribution to a New System of Aesthetics - Vol. 1


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