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 Eugene (Ferdinand Victor) Delacroix  (1798 - 1863)

/ deh-lah-kwah/
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Lived/Active: France      Known for: allegorical, classical painting

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Lion et lionne dans les montagnes
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Eugene Delacroix was born in Charenton St. Maurice near Paris on April 26, 1798.  His mother came from a family of artists and royal cabinet makers.  His father was a lawyer who had been active in the Revolution and was at the time ambassador from the French Directory to Holland.  He received his first instruction in the Lycee Imperial, where his was a thoroughly classical education.  He was thoroughly trained at home in the manners of diplomacy and high society.   

At an early age Delacroix became a lover of music and literature and had been drawing from the time he entered school.  He expected painting would be a hobby,  but on the death of his father he found he had to make his own way in life.  In 1817 he entered the studio of Pierre-Narcisse Guerin; amongst his fellow pupils was Gericault.  His first exhibited work was 'Dante and Virgil' in 1822 in the Salon.  It was a tortured scene of hell and was viciously attacked by some of the critics, but the government of France bought it anyway - a purchase so out of character for bureaucratic establishments as to inspire a generally accepted conjecture that Delacroix was the illegitimate son of Talleyrand, the French foreign minister.  Among the many factors pointing to a relationship between the prince and the painter, the most revealing was their startling physical resemblance, which it is said shocked Delacroix when he first saw a miniature of Talleyrand on his mother's desk.       

His success in 1822 having brought him fame, Delacroix for a time led a busy social life.  He was a friend of Richard Parkes Bonington, who frequented the studio of Gros, and he became acquainted with Thales Fielding. Tradition has it that after seeing one of Constable's landscapes at a Parisian art dealer's, in the four days remaining before the opening of the Salon, Delacroix re-painted the entire background landscape of his picture, introducing half-tones, broken color and glazes, which gave his canvas its incomparable brilliance. 

It was also in 1822 that he made the first entries in his famous Journal which he continued until his death.  Its candor and intimacy bring to life a man of violent enthusiasms, morbid doubts and depressions, loyal friendships, frail health sustained by intense nervous energy. and acute critical faculties that rejected all that fell short of beauty, honesty and intelligence.  The loves the painter reveals were ecstatic but short-lived and he remained a bachelor to the end of his days.   

He might have attained great academic honors if he had not diverged from the prevalent classicism.  With Gericault and others he became the recognized leader of the Romantic School.  There was bitter conflict between the rival schools.  Not until after 1830 did Delacroix and the Romantists begin to receive a share of state patronage which exercised such a great influence on art in France.  Like a quintessential modern artist, he revisited themes he had painted decades before, turning out more thoughtful interpretations of the same subjects.  In technique and color, he was a visionary.  He used unmixed pigments more boldly and freely than any artist before him, and in ways that directly inspired painters from Manet and Renoir to Matisse and Picasso.   

Compared with other artists, his travels were offbeat.  He made no pilgrimage to Greece or Rome; instead he went to England, where he fell under the spell of the landscapists, notably Constable.  In 1831 he visited Spain, Morocco and Algiers; several important works were a result of this journey.  In 1832, through influence of Thiers, received his first public commission.  From 1832 to 1855 he executed decorative works for the Chamber of Deputies, Library of Luxembourg, Galerie d'Apollon in the Louvre, Salon de la Paix in the Hotel de Ville, and church of St. Sulpice.  Delacroix was  elected to the Academy in 1857 and last exhibited at the Salon in 1859.  He died in Paris in 1863.   


The text was written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher of Laguna Woods, California:

Sources:   
Time Magazine
, July 26, 1963   
Phaidon Encyclopedia


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