Delacroix, Ferdinand Victor Eugène


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Delacroix, Ferdinand Victor Eugène

 

Born Apr. 26, 1798, at St.-Maurice, near Paris; died Aug. 13, 1863, in Paris. French painter and graphic artist.

The son of a diplomat, Delacroix was broadly educated. From 1816 to 1822 he studied at the studio of the classicist Guérin, where he became friends with Géricault, who strongly influenced him. Delacroix studied the painting of the old masters at the Louvre, especially the works of Rubens, and he was attracted to contemporary British painting (J. Constable). He visited England in 1825.

Endowed with a passionate temperament and powerful creative fantasy, Delacroix was a romantic from the beginning of his career and soon became the head of the romantic school. He was the most striking exponent of its progressive tendencies, and in a number of his works he even expressed its revolutionary sentiments. In 1822 he exhibited the painting Dante and Virgil in Hell (Dante’s Boat, the Louvre, Paris), which is imbued with emotional tension and somber, tragic ardor.

In the painting The Massacre of Chios (1823–24, the Louvre) Delacroix reacted to current events, depicting the suffering of the Greeks under Turkish oppression. The painting, permeated with dramatic, warm sympathy for the plight of the Greek people, resounded with protest against cruelty, oppression, and the encouragement given to the Turks by French policy in the Balkans. The civic attitude of the artist, the vitality of his images, and the exceptional freshness of his painting evoked fierce attacks from reactionary critics. (Influenced by Constable’s landscapes, Delacroix had repainted the picture in bright tones.) In the painting Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1827, Museum of Fine Arts, Bordeaux) the artist turned again to the struggle of the Greeks for national independence.

Unlike the cold, insipid, official academic painting, which was remote from life, Delacroix’ art was permeated with feeling and tension and imbued with humanistic ardor and a spirit of action and struggle. A fresh approach, eloquence, and inspiration also characterized Delacroix’ techniques, which were marked by dynamic composition, expressive brush work, and rich colors with pronounced contrasts of chiaroscuro and color. In his quest for striking subjects, strong, noble heroes, and deep, powerful passions, the artist frequently turned to the works of Shakespeare, Goethe, Byron, and Scott (Tasso in the Madhouse, 1824, Museum of Art, Winterthur; The Execution of the Doge Marino Faliero, 1826, Wallace Collection, London; The Death of Sardanapalus, 1827, the Louvre; The Assassination of the Bishop of Liege, 1829, Museum of Fine Arts, Lyon). In his lithographs Faust (1827–28) and Hamlet (1834–43), Delacroix expressed the finest shades of emotional experience, which earned him Goethe’s praise.

In 1830, under the immediate influence of the July Revolution, Delacroix painted the large canvas Liberty Guiding the People (Liberty on the Barricades, the Louvre). The artist depicted actual participants in the uprising side by side with the allegorical figure of liberty and created an impressive image of popular revolution, combining heroic reality with a fine romantic dream of liberty. In 1831, Delacroix painted two works on the Great French Revolution—Boissy d’Anglas in the Convention (Museum of Fine Arts, Bordeaux) and Mirabeau and Dreux-Brézé (Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen). In his battle scenes (Battle of Poitiers, 1830, the Louvre; Battle of Nancy, 1831–34, Museum of Fine Arts, Nancy; Battle at Taillebourg, 1837, National Museum of Versailles and Trianon), which dealt with national historical events, Delacroix vividly reproduced the scene of battle and the figures of the participants and transmitted the dramatic tension and fierce fighting of masses of soldiers clashing in battle.

After traveling to Algeria and Morocco in 1832, Delacroix used many of his sketches for such paintings as Algerian Women (1833–34) and Jewish Wedding in Morocco (1839), both in the Louvre, The Arab Musicians (1848, the Museum of Fine Arts, Tours), and Lion Hunt in Morocco (1854, the Hermitage, Leningrad). These romantic, colorful representations of the Orient are characterized by poetic feeling and a lively sense of the unique features of a way of life, customs, and characters.

Delacroix’ achievements in realism are strikingly expressed in his psychologically perceptive portraits, including his self-portrait (1829) and the portrait of Chopin (1838), both in the Louvre, as well as in his original landscapes and still lifes. Many of his monumental paintings, such as the murals in the Bourbon Palace (1833–47), the Luxembourg Palace (1845–47), the Hotel de Ville (1849–53), the Apollo Gallery in the Louvre (1849–51), and the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris (1849–61), are distinguished by a fine, decorative quality, free style, splendid color, and picturesqueness, but at the same time they are characterized by theatricality, subjectivity, and excessive ardor. The same qualitities are found in many of Delacroix’ works of the 1840’s and 1850’s on historical, religious, and mythological subjects, including The Judgmentof Trajan (1840, Museum of Fine Arts, Rouen), The Capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders (1840–41, the Louvre), and St. George and the Dragon (c. 1854, Museum of Fine Arts, Grenoble).

Because of his heroic and freedom-loving spirit, his dramatic sense of the contradictions of life, the boldness of his thought, feeling, and imagination, and the passion and picturesqueness of his expression, Delacroix’ creative work is among the finest in 19th-century world painting. He gave an active, emotional expressiveness to color and was among the first to apply the principle of division of colors and the system of complementary tones, shades of colors, and the reflections, sometimes anticipating the discoveries of the impressionists. Delacroix’ diary, which he kept from 1822, and his articles and numerous letters contain criticisms of bourgeois civilization, thoughts on art, and appraisals of the work of past and contemporary artists.

WORKS

Mysli ob iskusstve, o znamenitykh khudozhnikakh. Moscow, 1960. (Translated from French.)
Dnevnik Delakrua, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1961. (Translated from French.)

REFERENCES

[Kozhina, E. F.] Ezhen Delakrua. [Album.] Moscow, 1961.
Gastev, A. A. Delakrua. Moscow, 1966.
Escholier, R.Delacroix, vols. 1–3. Paris, 1926–29.
Huyghe, R. Delacroix. London, 1964.

S. V. MOROZOVA