Eugène Delacroix ranks amongst the most influential and prolific painters from the French Romantic period of the 19th century. Eugene’s work has been inspired by exotic tales, traditions, literature, travels and history, and he is famous for some iconic and remarkable works that include, ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’, ‘The Woman of Algiers’, and ‘Liberty Leading the People’.
Ferdinand Eugène Victor Delacroix was born on April 26, 1798, in Charenton-Saint-Maurice, France. His father Charles was a minister of foreign affairs, who had also served as a prefect for governmental regulation in Marseilles and later, in Bordeaux. Eugene’s mother, Victoire Oeben, was a very elegant and sophisticated woman who made sure her son was well versed and educated in art and literature. Unfortunately, Eugene’s father passed away just when he was seven years old, and a few years later, when he was sixteen, his mother too, passed away.
Eugène completed his basic education at the Lycee Louis-le-Grand, in Paris, however, he soon left the Lycee to concentrate solely on his artistic education and training. His uncle, who was very influential and well known in the art circles of Paris, pulled a few strings and managed to secure him an apprenticeship at the studio of notable painter, Pierre-Narcisse Guerin.
In 1816, Eugène enrolled himself at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and meanwhile, he began spending a great deal of time at the Louvre, feasting his eyes on the great works of the Old Masters such as Rubens and Titian. In 1822, he exhibited his initial and first major piece, ‘Dante and Virgil in Hell’, at the prestigious Paris Salon. This work had taken its inspiration from Eugène’s love and profound knowledge of literature. Most of his paintings took their inspiration from literature, history and more often, from religious tales and subjects.
During the 1820s, Eugène’s interests were piqued by history, and his paintings began depicting historical events in remarkable portrayals with fine detail and great emotional appeal. For instance, his great interest in the Greek War of Independence, and his profound grief at the injustices done during the war can be seen in his ‘The Massacre at Chios’, showcased in 1824, and ‘Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi’, exhibited in 1826.
Eugène’s work began to garner immense praise and critical acclaim for his unique and distinctive style of expression and softness of detail, and hence, there were numerous patrons and commissions to boast his commercial success. In 1827, an influential client commissioned the ‘Death of Sardanapalus’, which depicts the tragic and despondent scene of a lost, and defeated Assyrian monarch contemplating suicide.
‘Liberty Leading the People’, is another famous and critically acclaimed painting, which Eugène pained as rebuttal to the July Revolutions of 1830. The painting shows a woman, who leads a group of revolutionaries from all social classes, with the French flag in her hand. In 1831, the French government purchased this painting.
Eugène’s work was characterized with bold and bright colours that created an arresting and captivating effect on the canvas with free and confident brushstrokes. He dealt with intense and emotionally loaded subjects that ranged from drama, violence, conflicts, tragedies and rebellions to literature, music, history and travels.
In 1832, Eugène travelled to Morocco, and on this journey he encountered several exotic tales and mysteries of the faraway lands that complimented and well suited his romantic style. He returned to Paris brimming with new ideas and concepts, and in 1834, he produced his iconic and celebrated ‘The Woman of Algiers in Their Apartment’. In 1837, Eugène painted another remarkable piece inspired by Moroccan culture, ‘Moroccan Chieftain Receiving Tribute’.
Eugène devoted considerable time to literary pursuits and he continued to borrow scenes and portray them on the canvas from the works of his favorite writers such as Shakespeare and Lord Byron. As the fame of his skill and talent spread, he received a commission to paint several rooms of the Palace of Versailles along with the Palais Bourbon.
During the 1840s, Eugène began to tire of the busy cosmopolitan life of Paris and decided to retire to the countryside where he enjoyed the companionship of well-known and prolific artists such as the famous writer, George Sand and notable composer, Frederic Chopin. During this period, his interests were piqued by still lifes, and multiple paintings, mainly of flowers. ‘The Lion Hunt’ is one of the works he produced in this time.
Eugène’s last significant and prestigious commission was from the Church of Saint-Sulpice, in Paris, where he was assigned to paint a set of murals. The pieces he produced include ‘Jacob Wrestling with the Angel’, a bold and captivating painting that depicts an energetic and intense combat between two individuals in the dark woods.
Eugène Delacroix passed away on August 13, 1863, in his house in Paris.