Eugene Delacroix

In the 19th century, the art scene in Paris was rapidly changing. Painters were moving away from the Neoclassical emphasis on order and perfection and embracing Romantic themes of nature and emotion. We can see the start of this transition in the work of painters like Eugene Delacroix.

Born in 1798 near Paris, Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix studied drawing and painting at an early age. He studied at the Lycee Louis-le-Grand and eventually made the acquaintance of other young artists like Theodore Gericault. It was Gericault's work The Raft of the Medusa that inspired Delacroix to begin his own masterpieces and submit them to the Paris Salon. While his first painting, The Barque of Dante, wasn't well-received, Delacroix earned praise and success for The Massacre at Chios.

Throughout his career, Delacroix worked under the patronage of Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, a famous French diplomat. His work inspired both outrage and praise from different quarters of French society, pitting traditionalists against Romantics and other progressives. Delacroix became known to English society for his lithographs, illustrating literary works like the plays of William Shakespeare and the writings of Goethe. In 1832, he visited North Africa, where he sketched out local men and women, using their native costumes as inspiration for his paintings of scenes from Greek and Roman history and mythology. Besides painting such murals, Delacroix helped found the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1862, which united major groups of French artists. This was his last significant act before his death in 1863.

In breaking away from the Neoclassical tradition that defined Parisian art at the time, Delacroix turned to an ever older source for inspiration: the Renaissance. His works emphasized color and movement, as well as vivid emotion. Critics pointed out the lack of heroism in Delacroix's works, as the artist sought to inspire feeling in his audience rather than play up to patriotism and elegance—much like his friend Gericault did with The Raft of the Medusa.

The most famous painting by Delacroix is Liberty Leading the People, produced in 1830 to commemorate the July Revolution that ended the reign of King Charles X of France. Most audiences will recognize the scene of a proud woman who represents Liberty standing in the middle of the battlefield. In one hand she carries the flag of the French Revolution (and the flag of France ever since) while in the other she holds a musket. Because of its unabashed support for the July Revolution, the restored monarchy refused to have Delacroix's painting put on public display, never to be seen again until the Paris Salon of 1855. The triumphant pose of Liberty has become a popular symbol of the French people and Delacroix's skill in expressing passion through painting.

To see more paintings by Eugene Delacroix, visit the Louvre in Paris, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Image by Larry on Flickr

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