Born in 1798 near Paris, Eugene Delacroix was a leading artist of the 19th century. He left school at a young age to train as an artist under Pierre-Narcisse Guerin before enrolling at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
His bold color usage and free brushwork would become his signature style, inspiring artists of the future. In case you’re not already a fan, here are five things you should know about Delacroix.
Delacroix was more than a painter and we know a lot about him from his diaries.
Known as the leading figure of the French romantic era of art that took hold of the scene in the 19th century, Delacroix kept a journal in which he recounted his life and inspirations.
Delacroix was not only an established painter but also a skilled lithographer. After a trip to England in 1825, he began producing prints that illustrated Shakespearean scenes and characters as well as lithographs from Goethe’s tragic play Faust.
It has become clear that by the end of his career, Delacroix had amassed an enormous amount of work. On top of his prolific paintings that remain popular and recognizable, he also left more than 6,000 drawings, watercolors, and print work at the time of his death in 1863.
Delacroix was interested in literature, religion, music, and politics.
As seen in his paintings, Delacroix was inspired by so much around him including Dante and Shakespeare, French wars of the era, and his religious background. Born to a cultured woman, his mother encouraged Delacroix’s love of art and all the things that would go on to inspire him.
His first major painting which caused quite a stir in the Parisian art world was The Barque of Dante depicting the dramatic Inferno scene from Dante’s epic poem The Divine Comedy from the 1300s.
Five years later he would paint The Death of Sardanapalus inspired by Lord Byron’s poem and in 1830 he unveiled La Liberte Guidant le people (Liberty Leading the People) as the French Revolution unfurled around the country. The piece became synonymous with the bloody uprising of the people against King Charles X and is one of Delacroix’s most well-known works.
Delacroix befriended the Polish composer Frederic Chopin, painting his portraits and speaking highly of the musical genius in his journals.
Delacroix was successful, even as a young artist, and enjoyed a long career.
Unlike many artists who seem to have tumultuous careers of poverty and struggle, Delacroix found buyers for his work as a young man and was able to continue his streak of success throughout his 40-year career.
One of his earliest commissioned paintings was The Virgin Harvest, completed in 1819 when Delacroix was no older than 22 years old. Two years later he painted the previously mentioned The Barque of Dante which was accepted at the Salon de Paris.
Delacroix stayed busy painting and working throughout his life, pretty much up until the very end. He spent most of his later years in the countryside, producing still-life paintings apart from his various commissions requiring some attention in Paris.
His last major commissioned work included a series of murals for the Church of St. Sulpice which included Jacob Wrestling with the Angel which occupied most of his final years. He was truly an artist until the very end.
Delacroix was commissioned for important work, including the rooms at the Palace of Versailles.
Perhaps due to his subject matter, Delacroix was often commissioned by important clients and many of his paintings were bought by the French government itself.
Liberty Leading the People was purchased by the government but was hidden from public view until after the Revolution. This seemed to be the launching point for more commissioned work in high places.
Medea about to Kill Her Children was also bought by the state and in 1833 he was commissioned to decorate the Salon du Roi in the Chambre des Deputes at Palais Bourbon. Over the next decade, Delacroix would earn commissions to paint the Library at the Palais Bourbon, the Library at the Palais de Luxembourg, and the Church of St. Denis du Saint Sacrement.
From 1848 to 1850, Delacroix painted the ceiling of the Galerie d’Apollon of the Louvre and from 1857 to 1861 he completed the aforementioned murals in the frescoes at the Chapelle des Anges at the Church of St. Sulpice.
So, if you visit France, you’ll be able to see a lot of Delacroix’s work as it is featured all over the country in various public buildings. Still, these commissions were taxing and might have had something to do with his declining health in the few years he had left.
Delacroix inspired many modern artists like Van Gogh and Picasso.
Delacroix is seen as the painter who ended the Baroque tradition evident in the work of Rubens, Titian, and Rembrandt and the one who paved the way for a new generation of art and artists.
For example, he traveled to Morocco in 1832 on a convoy trip led by the French government. There, he visited a Muslim harem and upon his return, his most famous painting to come out of the visit was Women of Algiers in their Apartment.
If this name sounds familiar, it’s because the painting inspired countless copies and in the 1900s, painters like Matisse and Picasso painted their own versions. In fact, one of Picasso’s versions called Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O) is in the top ten most expensive paintings ever sold, $179.4 million at a Christie’s auction in New York.
French art and art on a global scale was forever changed by the work of Delacroix. As a community, we’re lucky that he lived so long and worked for all of his life. Giving the world some of the most influential pieces of all time, he defined the Romantic era and so much more.