Eugene Delacroix

Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix (April 26, 1798 - August 13, 1863) was an important painter from the French romantic period.

Delacroix was born at Saint-Maurice-en-Chalencon, Ardeche, in the Rhone-Alpes Region of France. There is reason to believe that his father, Charles Delacroix, was infertile at the time of Eugene's conception and that his real father was Talleyrand, who was a friend of the family, and whom the adult Eugene resembled in appearance and character. He was trained by Pierre-Narcisse Guerin in the neoclassical style of Jacques-Louis David, but was strongly influenced by the more colorful and rich style of the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and fellow French artist Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) whose works marked an introduction to romanticism in art.

Chios and Missolonghi

Massacre at ChiosDelacroix did several paintings in support of the Greek War of Independence against the Turks. His painting of the Massacre at Chios (also called Massacre at Scio), showed poor, sick Greek civilians about to be massacred by the Turks. He was painting a contemporary event, for a political purpose, to encourage people to support the Greeks in their war of independence against the Turks. This painting was a popular subject at the time for the French people, and by painting this picture, which was bought by the French government, Delacroix became increasingly well-liked. He was seen as a great painter in the new Romantic style. The painting also shows a view of the suffering of people which was very new in art. There was no glorious event taking place, no picture of swordsmen raising their swords in valour as in David's Oath of the Horatii. This was a picture where Delacroix painted the suffering of the people of the Greek island as the focus for the picture itself, which was relatively new in art. It made many critics unhappy that suffering was seen as a fit subject for an artwork.

Greece on the Ruins of MissolonghiDelacroix painted a second powerful painting in support of the Greeks in their war of independence in 1827. His painting of Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi is a powerful picture, showing a woman in Greek costume with her arms raised in a fashion where she shows she is powerless and begs to the viewer to see the horrible events which occurred here, the suicide of the Greeks, who chose to kill themselves and destroy their city, rather than surrender to the Turks. A hand is seen at the bottom, the body obviously having being crushed by the rubble of the city. The whole picture serves as a monument to the people of Missolonghi and to the idea of freedom against tyrannical rule. This event interested Delacroix not only for his sympathies with the Greeks, but also because of the fact that the writer Byron had died there, a writer who he greatly admired.

Death of Sardanapalus

Death of SardanapalusDelacroix's painting of the death scene of the Assyrian king Sardanapalus shows a romantic scene alive with beautiful colours, exotic costumes and tragic events. The Death of Sardanapalus is about a story of a king who was besieged, and who ordered his guards to kill his servants, wives and animals. His attitude in the painting was; If he was going to be killed, he was going to take them with him. The scene at the front with the nude woman about to get her throat cut is both extremely shocking and powerful. In the painting, the figure of Sardanapalus sits at the back watching the events taking place and he is somewhat distant from the rest of the figures. In this way he is seen to have a somewhat individualist nature as distinct from the rest of the group.

In fact, there was an individualistic spirit amongst Romantic painters in this period in Europe. The painting, which was not exhibited again for many years later, has been regarded by critics almost as a sick gruesome fantasy involving death and lust. However the simple beauty and exotic colours of the piece take away some of this aspect, and make the picture appear pleasing and shocking at the same time. In a sense the exotic nature of the piece take away the violence of it.

Liberty leading the people

Liberty Leading the PeopleDelacroix's most influential work came in 1830 with the painting, Liberty Leading the People. This painting serves to show the difference between the romantic style of painting and the neoclassical style of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. This powerful work is probably his best known painting, an unforgettable image of people gallantly marching forward under the banner of the tricolour representing liberty and freedom. He has used a blend of contemporary events, with a romantic image of the spirit of liberty, rather than many paintings which were either one or the other. The soldiers lying dead at the front right contrast with the figures fighting for liberty at the top. It seems liberty is winning, and it is as though she is bringing the forces together for the final battle.

The French government bought the painting but officials deemed its glorification of the idea of liberty as too inflammatory and removed it from public view. Nonetheless, Delacroix still received many government commissions for murals and ceiling paintings. He seems to have been trying to represent the spirit and the character of the people, rather than glorify the actual event, a revolution against King Charles X which did little other than bringing a different king, Louis Philippe, to power.

Following the Revolution of 1848 that saw the end of the reign of King Louis Philippe, Delacroix's painting, Liberty Leading the People, was finally put on display by the newly elected President, Napoleon III of France. Today, it is visible in the Louvre museum.

The boy holding a gun up, on the right is sometimes thought to be an inspiration of the Gavroche character in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables novel

Travel to North Africa

Sultan of MoroccoIn 1832, he traveled to Spain and North Africa, a trip that would influence the subject matter of a great many of his future paintings. Many of Delacroix's later works were based on what he saw during this trip. As part of a diplomatic mission to Morocco shortly after the French conquered Algeria, Delacroix was entranced by the people and the costumes. He believed that the locals in North Africa dressed similar to how the people of Classic Rome and Greece would have dressed, and thought that the best way to study what would have been classic clothing would be to study the culture of the North African people.

He had some trouble getting Moslem women to pose for him. He did manage to sketch some women secretly in Tangier, as shown in the painting of Women of Algiers in their apartment. While he did not find it too difficult to paint the men, he had more trouble with the women, because of the strict Moslem rules where women must be covered. Instead he painted some Jewish women living in North Africa, such as Jewish bride, because they did not have the same dress code and laws against women been depicted. Islamic art has traditionally been more designs and arabesques than the human figure, where the depiction of people was often frowned on, or regarded as blasphemy. Delacroix sometimes had to hide what he was doing from the local people.

While at Tangier he made many sketches of the people and the city around him, for paintings which he would paint sometimes much later. Many of the paintings he used imagery based just from this one trip. In fact, he did over 100 paintings and drawings of scenes from or based from the life of the people of North Africa. He not only used imagery from scenes of people in these works, but also he saw animals, which he incorporated into the paintings. In Arab Horses Fighting in a Stable and The Lion Hunt in Morocco, he used images of horses and lions along with people in costume to portray the life in North Africa. In another painting with both animals and humans, Moroccan Saddling his horse, the man has a more important role.