Eugène Delacroix was born just outside Paris in Charenton-Saint-Maurice, on April 26th, 1798.
Born into a more militant family with three older siblings, it is quite strange that Delacroix would soon become a talented young painter.
It is also thought to believe that Delacroix’s father; Charles- François Delacroix was not Delacroix’s real father due to rumours of Charles-François Delacroix being infertile at the time of Eugène Delacroix’s birth.
It is said that Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, politician, bishop, and diplomat, was Delacroix’s true father, as Delacroix tended to resemble the air of Talleyrand more than his through to be real father – Charles- François Delacroix.
Talleyrand had a held a huge influence over France at the time, serving both king Louis-Philippe and the Restoration.
Delacroix had quite a tumultuous time growing up as well. There was one occasion where, as an infant, he was burned due to the negligence of a nurse.
While reading a novel late at night, the nurse fell asleep and failed to blow out the candle she had lit, which ended up falling into little Eugène Delacroix’s crib, permanently burning his face and arms.
Delacroix was also carelessly dropped into the sea, as a servant who was carrying him was too focused on climbing up a boat to see her lover, that she dropped the young infant into the cold waters below.
He was also nearly poisoned and choked as a young lad. Delacroix did not live a sheltered life, and perhaps all his hardships he endured in his youth helped form him into the renowned artist we know and love today!
As Delacroix’s presumed father died in 1805 and his mother in 1814, Delacroix was left an orphan in which case the Talleyrand’s ended up looking after him and helped him pursue his artistic endeavors.
Still a teen, Delacroix began developing his skills at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand and at the Lycée Pierre Corneille in Rouen.
It was as early as 1815 when Delacroix began training with Pierre-Narcisse Guérin in the neoclassical Jacques-Louis David style.
Leader Of The Romantic Movement
What is Romanticism you might ask? Romanticism is the movement that strove to break away from all things classical.
It is both an artistic and intellectual movement that began in Europe in the late 18th century.
The core of romanticism relies on its infatuation with nature and an individual’s expression of both imagination and emotion.
It all started with The Barque of Dante, or, Dante and Virgil in Hell. Delacroix’s first work saw a significant shift away from Neo-Classicism towards the Romantic Movement.
The painting was finished in 1822 – destined for the Salon in Paris. The Barque of Dante now hangs up in the famous Musee du Louvre, Paris. Perhaps some light must be shed onto Théodore Géricault, who painted The Raft of the Medusa in 1819.
This remarkably profound piece of early Romanticism sparked awe and controversy in France due to its depiction of a scandal that brought into question the responsibility and strength of a French captain.
It was Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa which deliberately influenced the style of Delacroix’s first piece, The Barque of Dante.
Delacroix’s early journey through the world of art was almost as tumultuous as his rocky childhood. Not all his works were accepted amongst the French people.
In fact, an early work of his, Massacre at Chios (1824) was derided due to its depiction of suffering, not praise-worthy valor. The painting displayed a horror scene of dying Greek civilians about to be mauled by the Turks.
The piece was painted in what Delacroix would have thought to be good form, as Massacre at Chios relays Greek independence from Turkish rule, which the French public held sentimental value towards.
However, Massacre at Chios portrayed an image too violent, too bloody and depressing to be critically acclaimed at the time. France was not yet ready for this type of style to be widely accepted.
The portrayal of suffering was regarded as contemptuous in early 19th century France. Artist Antoine-Jean Gros had said it was “a massacre of art.”
In 1825, Delacroix had travelled to England where he learned various English styles and techniques that aided him in his only portrait, the Portrait of Louis-Auguste Schwiter (1826-1830).
The 1820’s paved the way for Delacroix’s Romantic style to be able to come to fruition. He had produced many lithographs and paintings portraying Shakespearean ideology and that of Goethe’s Faust.
By 1825, one could begin to trace Delacroix’s recurrent imagery as he favoured violence, suffering, and eroticism. It wasn’t until 1827 when France saw Romanticism come to its obvious fruition with Delacroix’s Death of Sardanapalus.
Death of Sardanapalus was a true depiction of all of the incoherent aspects of Romanticism brought into light. It was the obvious centerpiece of the Romantic Movement.
The painting shows the death of the Assyrian king, Sardanapalus, adorned with vibrant colours, contrasting events, and horrid, violent imagery.
What's so very terrifying about the painting is that it relays the calm, disinterested nature of the king as he instructs guards to kill his concubines, servants and animals.
The image of a sort of “calm detachment”, as seen by Sardanapalus in this piece was a popular romantic image throughout Europe in this period.
Liberty Leading The People
Delacroix’s most famous work, Liberty Leading The People, was a piece of work that influenced many.
This remarkable painting transmits the image of armed Parisians marching under the banner of the tricolor that represents liberty, equality, and fraternity. The tricolor is now represented as the national flag of France.
Although the painting was thought to be based on the revolution against Charles X in 1830, which did nothing but bring another king into power, Louis-Philippe, Delacroix had intended it to depict the romantic imagery of the spirit of liberty.
In terms of the artistic value of the painting, we can see groups of dead warriors sprawled about before an illuminated, feminine symbol of triumph.
The contrast of light and dark, life and death was a profound influence on France on these telling post-revolution times.
The French government did end up buying the painting, but the officials thought it glorified a provocative image of liberty and removed the painting from public view.
Thankfully, after the revolution of 1848, which saw the end of King Louis Philippe’s reign, Liberty Leading the People was finally put on display by the newly elected president, Napoleon III (Louis Napoleon).
You can find the painting on exhibit today in the Louvre-Lens in Lens, Pas-de-Calais.
Interestingly enough, the small boy holding a gun to the right of the depiction of the lady of liberty is thought to be the source of inspiration for the character named Gavroche in Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, Les Misérables.
North Africa And Later Life
In 1832, Delacroix left France to embark upon a journey to Spain, Morocco, and Algeria. He had travelled to North Africa on a diplomatic mission shortly after France had Algeria.
He went for the soul purpose of studying art, and to escape the hustle and bustle of the busy Parisian streets, in hopes of finding a more undeveloped society.
During his stay in Morocco and Algeria, Delacroix ended up painting over 100 paintings and drawings, each depicting a new and interesting thing he took notice of in this region. Delacroix had a deep interest in Rome, Greece, and the Orient.
Some of his earliest paintings illustrated the conflict between Greece and the Ottoman Turks, so it was no surprise that Delacroix ended up being interested by the similarities between the North African Arabs and the Ancient Greeks and Romans.
While Delacroix was in Tangier, he was so influenced by the people and the city that he would end up referring to them in his paintings, and kept returning to these bold impressions until his death.
Continuing with his fascination towards Greece and Greek Mythology, in 1838 one can see Delacroix paying homage to the sorceress, Medea, and martyr Jason in Medea about to Kill Her Children.
The painting depicts the moment where Medea is about to murder her children, embodying the essence of the original scene from Greek Mythology.
Delacroix was disappointed in finding out that Medea about to Kill Her Children would not be on display at the Luxembourg exhibit alongside his other greats, but would be displayed at the Lille Musee de Beaux-Arts instead.
From the year 1833 and onward Delacroix would receive commissions to paint murals and adorn public buildings all across Paris and elsewhere.
Some of these works included, but were not limited to:
- Painting of the Salon du Roi in the Chambre des Deputes, Palais Bourbon
- Painting of the Library at the Palais Bourbon
- Painting of the Library at the Palais du Luxembourg
- Decorating of the Church of St. Denis du Saint Sacrement
- Painting of the ceiling in the Galerie d’Apollon of the Louvre
- Painting of frescoes at the Church of St. Sulpice
Apparently, Delacroix had gone through a lot to produce these large-scale works, and as a result, was under a lot of pain from the 1830’s until his death in 1863.
By 1844, the fatigue had caused Delacroix to retreat to a small cottage in Champrosay, where he would spend occasional time away from Paris.
Some people say that Delacroix would have been in much worse condition if it wasn’t for his well-to-do housekeeper, Jeanne-Marie le Guillou and her endless devotion. One of the final and major events that took place under Delacroix’s influence was the creation of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1862.
The formation of this group was pivotal as it saw the merging of two separate French groups of artists. Eugène Delacroix died in Paris and was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Other Related Artists And Paintings
If you are interesting in learning more about Eugène Delacroix and some other similar artists, then you should deffinately take a look at some of the paintings previously mentioned in this article, as well as:
- The Virgin of the Harvest (1819)
- The Raft of Medusa (1818)
- Massacre of the Innocents (1608)
If you like Delacroix’s style and are looking for something cut from the same cloth, then you should take a look at some of these artists’ work as well:
- Peter Paul Rubens
- Theodore Gericault
- Lord Byron
- Théophile Gautier