A very short introduction to Delacroix
“Give me the mud of the streets,” wrote Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix, “and I will turn it into the luscious flesh of a woman.”
Cue violins, gentlemen in silk cravats and some of the most sensuous portraits of women known to European painting.
If you are a stranger to 19th century Romanticism, know that Delacroix was not only considered a crowning example of it, but none other than the genius behind the subsequent careers of Monet, Manet, Matisse and van Gogh. Admirer Paul Cézanne once compared Delacroix’s painting to “a glass of wine in the throat.”
And when you see his work, those violent horrors and dark desires, you imbibe an exquisite vintage, one buzzing with the richness of something that has long been kept in barrels with sassy top notes to boot.
The pure undiluted colour, the shimmering hues of each portrait were all a bold, even nasty move at a time where the academies were obsessed with loftiness and subtlety. And it caused a stir, for the fact that simply no one else had been brave enough to paint in this way.
But if anything, Delacroix proved time and time again to be a fearless pathfinder, tackling provocative subject matter with rough strokes of the brush and being extremely consistent about it. The result? The brilliance and luminosity of his dense pigment became the overriding trend which the Impressionists and Symbolists were quick to snap up.
Seek out the artist’s etchings on the theme of Doctor Faustus, sketches revealing his working process from pencil drawing to full-scale portrait and paintings documenting his adventures among the souks and bazaars of North Africa.
And as you wade through the dark forest of his work, keep an eye out for a few key details: the glint of blue that pops up in his works in various guises, a total absence of bright skies in the landscapes and the empty eyes of his subjects in their state of mingled agony and ecstasy.