The composition takes the viewer straight into the dynamic of the imagined encounter. Energy moves upwards from left to right with mounting intensity - from the fallen rider and the struggling horse to the armed and attacking warriors.
Then it is released, through the charging horsemen, down into the centre of the frame and the heart of the battle. Then the eye moves through the gun smoke and abruptly up to the castle on the hill and finally into the blue sky.
The artist creates the physical and emotional sensations caused by a violent encounter in the mountains. His use of red, white and blue arrests the eye at each group, emphasising the violent rhythms of battle on horseback.
His fluid brush strokes fill the canvas with energy.
In 1832, Delacroix had travelled to Spain and North Africa.
He wanted to escape from Paris and hoped see a more primitive and vibrant culture. What he saw entranced him and inspired more than one hundred paintings and drawings.
In these works, for example, Death of Sardanapalus, Massacre at Chios and Arabs Skirmishing in the Mountains, he followed in the footsteps of Michelangelo and Rubens by focussing on violent, epic subjects.
His use of a lush palette and vibrant brush strokes was to influence Impressionism and Post Impressionism.
Delacroix took the traditions of Michelangelo and Rubens and combined them with his own genius to create a new, dynamic, style of painting that, while rooted in the traditions of the past, opened the doors to the future. He was, as Baudelaire said, "The last of the great artists of the Renaissance and the first modern..."
Eugene Delacroix (1798 – 1863) is France’s leading romantic painter of the 19th Century. He was described by the French poet Baudelaire as "a volcanic crater concealed beneath bouquets of flowers." His work is characterised by a rich sensuousness underscored by violence and cruelty.