Eugene Ferdinand Victor Delacroix, (1798-1863)

French painter, whose work exemplified 19th-century Romanticism, and whose influence extended to the Impressionists, hence the reason for including him here.

Delacroix was born on April 26, 1798, at Charenton-Saint Maurice, and he studied under the French painter Pierre Guérin. He was trained in the formal Neo-Classical style of the French painter Jacques-Louis David, but he was strongly influenced by the more colourful, opulent style of such earlier masters as Peter Paul Rubens and Paolo Veronese. He also absorbed the spirit of his contemporary Théodore Géricault, whose early works exemplify the violent action, love of liberty, and budding Romanticism of the turbulent post-Napoleonic period.

Delacroix’s artistic career began in 1822, when his first painting, The Barque of Dante (1822, Louvre, Paris), was accepted by the Paris Salon. He achieved popular success in 1824 with Massacre at Chios (Louvre), which portrays the then topical and heroic subject of the Greek struggle for independence. On a trip to England in 1825, he studied the work of English painters including J.M.W.Turner. The influence of Richard Parkes Bonington, who painted in bright, jewel-like colours, is evident in Delacroix’s subsequent works, such as Death of Sardanapalus (1827, Louvre). A fully fledged work of his mature style, it is a lavish, violent, colourful canvas in which women, slaves, animals, jewels, and fabrics are combined in a swirling, almost delirious composition. The subject of the painting is the decision made by an ancient king to have his possessions (including his women) destroyed before he kills himself.

Delacroix’s most overtly Romantic and perhaps most influential work is Liberty Leading the People (1830, Louvre), a semi allegorical glorification of the idea of liberty. This painting confirmed the clear division between the Romantic style of painting, which emphasized colour and spirit, and the concurrent Neo-Classical style (in the development of which Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres was a leading figure), which emphasized line and cool detachment.

Delacroix remained the dominant French Romantic painter throughout his life. A trip to North Africa in 1832 provided subjects for more than 100 sensuous canvases. In addition, he received many government commissions for murals and ceiling paintings. Many of his late works, especially animal pictures, hunt scenes, and marine subjects, are superb, but others exhibit a certain dryness of execution and lack of inspiration. He also illustrated various works of William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, and Goethe.

Delacroix’s technique, in which he applied contrasting colours with small strokes of the brush, creating a particularly vibrant effect, was an important influence on the Impressionists. He is also well known for his Journals, which display considerable literary talent and express his views on art, politics, and life. Delacroix died in Paris on August 13, 1863.