Romantic painters such as Delacroix were part of a complex philosophical movement, involving the literary, visual, and intellectual arts.
Delacroix’s masterpieces profoundly shaped the work of the Impressionists, whilst
his passion for the exotic inspired the protagonists of the Symbolist movement.
The artist’s importance was not limited to his artworks; his diary, first published between 1893 and 1895, was much admired as an expression of artistic purpose and practice.
Throughout his career he cultivated a reputation as a free thinker, consumed by
creativity and inspiration. Together, Delacroix’s paintings, writings, and self-perception shaped the future of modern painting.
Delacroix was also a famous lithographer, and was able to produce exquisite
illustrations of the works of esteemed literary geniuses including William Shakespeare, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Walter Scott.
The artist gained inspiration from the work of Peter Paul Rubens and Titian. He also focused on movement and colour in his masterpieces, instead of emphasising on outlines and forms. Prior to that, the frescos of Da Vinci and Michelangelo would also have been significant.
As evident in his paintings, most of his work was of a romantic or dramatic nature. He was influenced by the works of Lord Byron, who was better known for incorporating sublime forces in his creations.
Delacroix became known as a primary figure in the new Romantic art style. Some art critics, however, considered his manner of presenting suffering as somewhat controversial.
By 1826, Delacroix began to explore other painting techniques, and created romantic
artworks with varied themes. In 1825, he began creating lithographs that illustrated Shakespeare and paintings by Goethe.
Woman with the Parrot and The Combat of the Giaour and Hassan, which he painted in 1826 and 1827 presented the recurring themes of sensuality and violence.
In 1832, Delacroix travelled to Spain and North Africa, as part of a diplomatic mission to Morocco shortly after the French conquered Algeria. His mission was to study art, but also to escape from Paris, in hope of seeing a more primitive culture.
He eventually produced over 100 paintings and drawings of scenes from or based on the life of the Moroccan people, and added his own chapter in the history of Orientalism. The people and their costumes captivated Delacroix.
The trip would inform the subject matter of a great many of his future paintings. He saw a parallel between the Moroccan outlook and attire and that of the Romans and those from ancient Greece.
Animals – a symbol of romantic passion – were incorporated into paintings such as
Arab Horses Fighting in a Stable (1860), The Lion Hunt (of which there exists many versions, painted between 1856 and 1861), and Arab Saddling his horse (1855).
With Death of Sardanapalus created in 1827, it was the artist’s careful selection of exotic colours and strong brushstrokes, which made the painting truly special. In his later career, he became one of the most distinguished mural painters in the history of French art.
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel and The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple are among the deepest expressions of his decorative richness of colour and impressive structural integration.
His influence, particularly through his use of colour, was genius, inspiring Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vincent Van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso, among other famous artists.