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Friday, 4 March 2016

Delacroix's portraits

To coincide with 'Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art' that has recently opened at the National Gallery, we take a look at a selection of Delacroix's portraits. As both an exponent of the Grand Style and celebrated as one of the first modern masters, the exhibition pays homage to Delacroix's widespread artistic legacy. Delacroix is acknowledged as the champion of Romanticisim and was much admired by avant-garde painters in Paris including Courbet, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse. 

'The first merit of a painting is to be a feast for the eye' - Eugène Delacroix

A painter of 'the invisible, the impalpable, reverie, the nerves, the soul; and this he did without any means other than contour and colour' - Charles Baudelaire

'We all paint in Delacroix's language' - Paul Cezanne

Eugène Delacroix, 'Self-portrait', about 1837 © RMN Grand-Palais (musée du Louvre)/Jean-Gillies Berizzi
Delacroix's strong jaw, intense stare, glossy black hair and sophisticated appearance, accompanied by a sense of antipathy, marks this self-portrait as archetypally Romantic and visually exemplifies why Delacroix was named 'the tiger' by Charles Baudelaire. 

Eugène Delacroix, 'Young orphan Girl in the Cemetery', 1824 © Musée du Louvre)/A. Dequier - M. Bard
This early work by Delacroix was for a long time believed to be a preparatory piece for the 'Massacre at Chios.' The young girl is clearly defined against the more hazy background of the sky and forlorn cemetery. She gazes beyond the frame and her dark-ringed eyes suggest a sense of sadness and solitude that is enhanced by the dark colours and sombre landscape. 

Eugène Delacroix, 'Head of a Woman', 1822 ©The Athenaeum
This painting is also referred to as 'A Mad Woman' and reflects a prevailing curiosity in abnormal states of mind that greatly interested artists such as Delacroix and Gericault, who pitched themselves against Enlightenment rationality. There was a common belief at the time that physical appearance gave an insight into character, especially in the case of madness and death. 

Eugène Delacroix, 'Louis-Auguste Schwiter', 1826-30 © The National Gallery, London
This portrait of Louis-Auguste Schwiter, who was himself a landscape and portrait painter, was begun when Delacroix returned to France in 1826 after a period in England. Rejected by the Salon in 1827, Delacroix made alterations to the work and it was later completed in 1830. It is possible that the portrait was influenced by the painter Sir Thomas Lawrence, who was the subject of an essay written by Delacroix in 1829. 

Eugène Delacroix, 'Portrait Frederic Villot' c. 1832 © The National Gallery, Prague
This intimate portrait of Marie-Joseph Frederic Villot reflects his good friendship with Delacroix. He was also an engraver and art historian who acted as paintings curator of the Louvre from 1848 -1861. 

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