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Eugène Delacroix, not an unknown name in art history. One of the most important French painters of the early 19th century. His works are powerful in colour and thus play with the emotions of the viewer. With his new view of colour and its application, he paved the way for the Impressionists.

The Louvre in Paris will present an extensive exhibition of Delacroix’s entire oeuvre. An overview with a somewhat trivial title “Delacroix (1798-1863)”, which should not be misleading. What lasts for a long time will finally be good, because this is the first major presentation of the French artist in many years, showing around 180 works, including drawings, sketches, studies, and paintings, as well as a chronological presentation of the artist’s work in a descriptive manner.

Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix, his full name, was born in 1798 in Charenton-Saint-Maurice near Paris, where he studied painting at various stations.

His motifs could be critical and regularly caused a stir, because he did not hesitate to shock. Delacroix was fascinated and influenced both by Peter Paul Rubens and Paolo Veronese, superficially by their way of using color. He also admired the French artist Théodore Géricault, from whom he could learn a lot. He was particularly impressed by Géricault’s impressive and famous work “The Raft of Medusa”. Influenced by this, he painted “Dante-Barke”, which referred to Dante Alighieri’s writing “The Divine Comedy”.

During Delacroix’s lifetime, France was in political turmoil and recurring unrest. It was the time after the French Revolution, the governments took turns. After the reign of terror of Robespierre, Napoleon came and tried to conquer other European countries. He established an empire in France and was in power for a long time. But in the end he was defeated and in Europe the conservative power, the rule of the tradition-conscious restorers, strengthened again. The people of France were torn between the changing systems of government and those in power. The rapid system change from revolution, power of the people again to restoration, power of the nobles and rich, empire and republic, manifested itself especially in painting. Artists who were particularly capable had the task of capturing contemporary events in historical paintings. One of them was Delacroix, trapped between adaptation and insurrection, but his recognition remained steady, it is still there today.

Through the colour he used skilfully, virtuously and as the most important stylistic device, he became a poet of French Romantic painting, although he did not see himself as a romantic and rejected this term for himself. He was simply a painter, despite some doubts that constantly accompanied him. An attempt to classify or categorize Delacroix should not take place, his work was too modern and revolutionary in his lifetime. In contrast to many of his contemporaries who painted in the sense of the Academy and were considered classicist, such as Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Delacroix managed to integrate dynamism and tension into his works. The result was historical pictures with power and life, but the pictures also often remained gloomy, dramatic and terrifying. In his opinion, the vivid effect of the picture was created solely by the color and its richness of color differentiation possibilities.

The lead story of the exhibition is, of course, Delacroix’s most famous work “Freedom Leads the People”, a symbol of France. But it was often erroneously associated with the French Revolution of 1789, but in reality it was created years later, during the July Revolution of 1830. It skilfully and clearly illustrates the losses suffered in the revolution, yet still shows the cruel change of power in France’s political system. Therefore, this painting was also hidden for a long time in the depot, the rulers feared that it could instigate new unrest.

In addition, various historical paintings, the most important genre in painting, are shown in the period in which Delacroix lived, the 19th century. In addition, portraits, graphics, studies, and sketchbooks will be presented in dialogue, giving a closer insight into the artist’s work, approach, and oeuvre. An interesting perspective on the work of the French painter is provided by his pictures of big cats such as tigers and lions.

Young Tiger Plays with Mother

Numerous studies and sketches, exhibited in display cases and hanging on the wall, testify that Delacroix studied nature, its surroundings, the landscape, the people and all the things he used as a model in great detail and worked with care. And this despite the fact that he was not a realist. Realism was the era of art that followed Romanticism and Classicism, and in Delacroix. Thus some landscapes and nature pictures are shown which Delacroix could at least mentally associate with the realists like Gurstave Courbet.

Medea About to Murder Her Children

Delacroix was also inspired by trips to Morocco and Islamic art. There he found a force of colour and glowing light, which he skilfully implemented and used for his own works. He was fascinated. He brought numerous sketches and studies back to France and used them again and again for new works. He was an attentive observer and made notes of things he saw and perceived. His fascination for cats of prey, lion hunts and tigers, which he repeatedly transferred to canvas as motifs, probably also developed in Morocco.

In the portraits, Delacroix manages to achieve an urgency and intensity that directly involves the viewer. The glances seem melancholic or filled with pain. Longing speaks from the eyes of the portrayed. In the exhibition there are some impressive examples of how the French master’s hand captures the feelings of those portrayed.

Young Orphan Girl in the Cemetery

Eugène Delacroix was an intellectual who enjoyed literature, music and philosophy. He discovered his passion for literature at an early age. All this he tried to realize in his paintings. Through his tireless work he did not always have much time for these passions. He read Lord Byron’s poems and especially loved the dramas of William Shakespeare. To Goethe’s “Faust” some lithographs originated in the year 1827.

The painting of the Frenchman should often not be immediately interpretable, not too much should be betrayed. To recognize his painting should be similar to the way the contents of a book are translated into the mind through fantasy. Delacroix saw his painted works as “a kind of mysterious bridge between the soul of the figures and that of the viewer,” he wrote in his diaries. His paintings were intended to create a mood that captured the viewer. Later, the Impressionists held a similar opinion and saw Delacroix as a model of their modern art. He was a painterly revolutionary, a pioneer.

Eugène Delacroix died in Paris in 1863

Recently, the painting “Tiger with Turtle” was auctioned at Christie’s at the Rockefeller Collection for $9.9 million. This is in keeping with the current exhibition at the Louvre, which impressively illustrates the full creative power and breadth of the French artist Delacroix. All the important motifs for Delacroix are shown, including the big cats, the animal, which he captured in a multitude of variations on canvas. The cats embodied qualities that Delacroix wanted to emphasize, strength and yet grace, but also their animal cruelty and sometimes a certain melancholy. Maybe the cats are also a symbol for the human character?