A Romantic of Endless Industry

By Candlin, Enid Saunders | The Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 1991 | Go to article overview

A Romantic of Endless Industry


Candlin, Enid Saunders, The Christian Science Monitor


THE "proud and solitary" Romantic, Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863), was a gifted, complex man of impressive intellectual caliber. When the artist was 24, he began a journal which affords posterity with a provocative record of his times, as well as a self-portrait more revealing than anything he would paint of himself. The indiscretion and frankness of diaries are what makes them valuable and singular; here we find Delacroix's views on art, music, literature, mankind, both general and particular. To him we owe written portraits of Chopin, whom he valued as a dear friend, and of Berlioz, who infuriated him.

Delacroix was a combination of the liberal and the conservative, snobbish and caustic toward the bourgeoisie, writing: "With the majority of men, the intelligence is a field that lies fallow for almost all their lives." Still, he was known for his punctilious manners. His journal and letters are so well penned that many have thought him an even better writer than artist. Certainly through these writings we can look out on the emerging world of events and trends, while being charmed by such snatches as "Found two beautiful hawk's feathers."

Delacroix was born in the Val de Marne, France, but went as a small child to Paris. It was soon realized that he would be an artist, and at the capital he was able to study with the great masters of the day and used to copy the art works in the Louvre.

At the outset of his career, his training led him to follow the classical mode, accepting the precepts of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Jacques-Louis David. But when he became aware of the new world of Romanticism developing around him, with its vivid, individual concepts and dramatic visions, he realized that this movement was in accord with his own imagination and feeling, so that he at once identified himself with it. When his work became known, he was called the leader of the Romantics, the Victor Hugo of painting.

The same year in which Delacroix began his journal, his first great painting, "Le Barque de Dante," was hung in the Salon in Paris, and everywhere acclaimed. The dramatic story of the poet on the boat crossing the river Styx was handled with such boldness, and the colors were so lavish that Paris was stirred. The artist loved colors, greatly influenced by Rubens, Titian, and Veronese. After this, other splendid canvases came from his brush, most of them full of "emotional turbulence." He was fired in the choice of his themes by his wide reading - Byron, Shakespeare, and Scott were among his favorites.

Another important facet of Delacroix's genius came to light nearly 10 years later, when he became one of the foremost of the Orientalist painters. In 1832, he suddenly had the opportunity to visit North Africa in the suite of the Comte de Mornay, who was going as special envoy to the sultan of Morocco from the King of France. Though the journey did not last more than five months, it illuminated his perceptions and imagination and was to be a turning point in his life. It came at just the right moment for him - his technique was established, his name known.

Europe had been made keenly aware of the wonders of the Near East through the work of those artists who had accompanied Napoleon on his Egyptian campaign, and now painters were flocking to the region. …

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