Here we find Susanna being accosted by two elderly gentlemen in a distasteful incident in which she appears vulnerable and preyed upon. One of these men is dressed in red, and the other in black. They are either side of her, trapping her within their wills. Elements of background detail are suggested at, but left incomplete. Indeed, much of the original canvas is still showing through on the right hand side, where almost no layers of oil had been added. What we see here is the very early stages of the formation of a painting, where undetailed layers are slowly applied in order to give a loose semblance of form, until further tones are added on top to slowly complete the piece. In this case, Delacroix was satisfied to stop at this point, merely experimenting with an idea around composition that he did not need to investigate any further. Sometimes he would work with pencil before then expanding into study paintings such as this.
The advantage of this method of working is that far fewer changes would need to be made during the final piece itself, therefore saving considerable hours of work. Study pieces such as these could easily be put together very quickly, and by this stage of his career, he already had a fairly good understanding of how to interpret his own ideas and develop them into art. Whilst we now understand better the misbehaviour of men, with much more open reporting, this type of painting would not have been approved of by some during that period and was important in raising awareness of these types of aggressive behaviours where the advantage was taken of someone younger or less fortunate.
Susanna and the Elders is a topic that has been used in the careers of many famous artists, besides just the example of Delacroix found here. Because of its unfinished nature, we cannot consider this to be one of the best versions on this theme, but it is still worthy of note within his overall career. Susanna and the Elders by Artemisia Gentileschi is perhaps the best example, but there were also other versions by the likes of Rembrandt, Tintoretto, Artemisia Gentileschi and Peter Paul Rubens. Delacroix's incomplete version can be found in the collection of the Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts and it remains a highly prized asset because of the worldwide fame achieved by its creator, who remains well known today. The same can also be said for the artist's drawings, many of which can now be found in the collection of the Louvre, with others spread thinly around European and North American institutions as well as some private collections.