EUGENE DELACROIX (1798-1863) ROMANTIC PAINTER DURING THE 1830 AND 1848 REVOLUTIONS IN FRANCE. BY LAURENCE HUMPHRIES

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Eugene Delacroix born on the eve of the French revolution was an important romantic painter and colourist who following Jean Antoine Gros use colour to great effect. Commentators on Delacroix have suggested that he was part of the Romantic movement that flowered during the Napoleonic age. “In this period Delacroix moved closer to the sphere of Romanticism , a movement that stressed personal expression and a world of feelings”.  [1].

Delacroix became a great History painter particularly his ‘Liberty leading the people’ which captures the Revolution during this period. It has been an icon for years and it represents the one great moment when Delacroix felt he had revolutionary feelings and emotions. It was the only time it would ever happen.

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When he travelled to London and discovered the paintings of Constable and Turner he was truly amazed. “But his most important discoveries were the vivid landscapes of Constable and the vastness of Turner’s skies. He returned to France with a renewed interest in watercolours”. [2].

“The July revolution of 1830 and the instalment of King Louis Phillipe by supporters of the house of Orleans provided the inspiration for the painting liberty leading the people presented at the salon of 1831”.  [3].

Delacroix’s ability to use sensation and colour to an effect immediately made him very popular with the Art going public in France.  “His artistic eye had observed sensation and scenes of penetrating violence , the opulence of African light and colours and the vivacious rites and customs of Arabian civilisation had made an enormous impact on him”. [4].

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“In the massacre at Chios it is clear that Delacroix was by now devoting greater care to the backgrounds of his pictures influenced by the landscapes of Constable which he had seen before they were displayed in the Salon of 1834”. [5].

The woman of Algiers shows that Delacroix was following the same road as Paul Gaugin in painting oriental subjects, in fact aiding and abetting the slave masters in Algiers to keep harems. Delacroix was only interested in the sexual satisfaction it would give to him and other European artists, a form of extreme sexism in the 19th century. “When  ‘Women of Algiers in their apartment was presented at the 1834 salon in softly erotic atmosphere , warmly glowing colours and eloquent placed design were greeted enthusiastically by public and critics alike”. [6.

As the Art Historian Tim Clark observes  “Like everyone else Delacroix greeted the February Revolution of 1848 with something like enthusiasm “. [7].

Clark goes onto to elaborate the only moment that Delacroix felt any revolutionary feelings in his body. “Liberty guiding the people .it stood for one moment of his life when his fragile detachment had been discarded”. [8]. Why was Delacroix such a middle class dilettante whose only pleasure was soaking in his own little world , the unfolding Revolutions were of no interest to Delacroix as Clark further examines his role. “We want to know for a change what was specific about Delacroix’s pessimism which  he clothed for the most part in second hand terms -contempt for the idea of progress , concern for the fragility of civilisation, world  weariness, hypochondria inability to work”.[9].

Refusing to accept the revolutionary changes taking place Delacroix just remained within himself and during the last period of his life he led a very solitary existence. ” This was an art  closed against the World in a double sense , private imagery and painting which aims to continue the old traditions as if the 19th Century did not exist  “. [10].

“In France the crisis of the bourgeois public sphere grew acute in the years following the revolution of 1830.striving to reinvigorate the genre of History painting Eugene Delacroix created the 28th July Liberty leading the people.”. [11].

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Commentators who take a Marxist perspective point out the actual elements in Liberty Leading the people . “No longer the social melange or sans-cullotes of 1789 the Paris workers who fought on the barricades in July were becoming self conscious proletarians”. [12].

Commenting on the Woman of Algiers and confirming my prognosis that Eugene Delacroix’s painting although using vibrant colours is in fact a defence of slavery and a supporter of the Harem system. “Delacroix’s women (in Algiers) is thus both a Testimonial to and a condemnation of the advanced European civilisation”. [13].

There is no doubt that Delacroix made a great contribution to art in the 19th Century. His use of colour together with other harmonious elements involving light , shade made him a great artist , Many impressionist painters were impressed with Delacroix including Georges Seurat  and others.

But compared to Courbet and David who believed in Revolutionary politics during the French Revolution and the Paris Commune, both were Revolutionaries whereas Delacroix as a petit bourgeois Middle class painter who never in the end had a principled position and  for the last years of his life remained alone reflecting on his role as a dilettante .

1)  Delacroix . Great  Masters

2)   ibid  .Pg.21

3)   ibid  . pg.21

4)   ibid   .pg.22

5)   ibid   . pg.16

6)   ibid    . pg.25

7)  The Absolute Bourgeois  Artists and politics in France 1848-1851. Tim Clark. g.126

8)   ibid.     pg.130

9)   ibid.      pg.133

10) ibid.      pg.141.

11)  19th Century Art A Critical History  pg.207

12)    ibid.   pg.207

13)    ibid.   pg. 219

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