Eugène Delacroix

Eugène Delacroix was a French Romantic artist regarded as the leader of the French Romantic school. Delacroix's use of expressive brushstrokes and his study of the optical effects of colour profoundly shaped the work of the Impressionists, while his passion for the exotic inspired the artists of the Symbolist movement. In contrast to the Neoclassical perfectionism of his chief rival Ingres, Delacroix took for his inspiration the art of Rubens and painters of the Venetian Renaissance, with an attendant emphasis on colour and movement rather than clarity of outline and carefully modelled form.

Delacroix was born in Île-de-France, near Paris. There is reason to believe that his real father was Talleyrand, who was a friend of the family whom the adult Eugène resembled in appearance and character. Throughout his career as a painter, he was protected by Talleyrand. In 1815 he began his training with Pierre-Narcisse Guérin in the neoclassical style of Jacques-Louis David.

The impact of Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa was profound, and stimulated Delacroix to produce his first major painting, "The Barque of Dante", which was accepted by the Paris Salon in 1822. The work caused a sensation, and was largely derided by the public and officialdom, yet was purchased by the State for the Luxembourg Galleries. Two years later he again achieved popular success for his "The Massacre at Chios". It shows sick, dying Greek civilians about to be slaughtered by the Turks. One of several paintings he made of contemporary events.

Delacroix was quickly recognized as a leading painter in the new Romantic style, and the picture was bought by the state. His depiction of suffering was controversial however, as there was no glorious event taking place, the artist Antoine-Jean Gros called it "a massacre of art". He introduced subjects of violence and sensuality which would prove to be recurrent. These various romantic strands came together in the Death of Sardanapalus (1827-8). The painting, which was not exhibited again for many years afterward, has been regarded by some critics as a gruesome fantasy involving death and lust.

Delacroix's most influential work came in 1830 with the painting Liberty Leading the People, probably Delacroix's best known painting, it is an unforgettable image of Parisians, having taken up arms, marching forward under the banner of the tricolour representing liberty, equality, and fraternity. The French government bought the painting, but officials deemed its glorification of liberty too inflammatory and removed it from public view until it was put on display by the newly elected President in 1848, Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III).

In 1832, Delacroix traveled to Spain and North Africa, as part of a diplomatic mission to Morocco shortly after the French conquered Algeria. He eventually produced over 100 paintings and drawings of scenes based on the life of the people of North Africa, sketches of the people and the city, subjects to which he would return until the end of his life. He added a new and personal chapter to the interest in Orientalism.

From 1833 Delacroix received numerous commissions to decorate public buildings in Paris. In that year he began work for the Salon du Roi in the Chambre des Députés, Palais Bourbon, which was not completed until 1837. For the next ten years he painted in both the Library at the Palais Bourbon and the Library at the Palais du Luxembourg. In 1843 he decorated the Church of St. Denis du Saint Sacrement with a large Pietà, and from 1848 to 1850 he painted the ceiling in the Galerie d'Apollon of the Louvre. From 1857 to 1861 he worked in the Chapelle des Anges at St. Sulpice. These commissions offered him the opportunity to compose on a large scale in an architectural setting.

In 1862 Delacroix participated in the creation of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. His friend, the writer Théophile Gautier, became chairman. Just after his death in 1863, the society organized a retrospective exhibition of 248 paintings and lithographs. Eugène Delacroix died in Paris, France, and was buried there in Père Lachaise Cemetery.

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