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Summary Article: Delacroix, (Ferdinand Victor) Eugène from Chambers Biographical Dictionary

1798-1863

French painter

He was born in Charenton, the son of Charles Delacroix (1741-1805), who had been foreign minister under the Directory and prefect of Marseilles. As a boy he developed a love of art and in 1816 he entered the studio of Pierre Guérin, where his fellow pupil was Theodore Géricault, whose famous Raft of the Medusa gave him early inspiration. In 1822 he exhibited Dante and Virgil in Hell at the Salon and in 1824 The Massacre at Chios (Louvre, Paris). These pictures, particularly the latter with its loose drawing and vivid colouring, shocked the devotees of the austere Classical style and aroused a storm of criticism. John Constable's Haywain, which was hung in the same exhibition, profoundly impressed Delacroix, who moved even further away from traditional treatment with brilliant canvases of historical and dramatic scenes, often violent or macabre in subject, among them The Execution of Faliero, now in the Wallace Collection, and the famous Liberty Guiding the People (1831, Louvre). A journey to Morocco and Spain with a diplomatic mission in 1832 led to several pictures with an oriental flavour, such as Algerian Women (1834), and he also turned to literary themes, notably from Shakespeare and Torquato Tasso. In 1838 he began work on a series of panels for the library of the Chamber of Deputies, choosing as his subject the history of ancient civilization, but despite this official recognition and despite the fact that the government had bought his Massacre at Chios, he was regarded as a rebel in the art world and was not elected to the Institut de France until 1857. Perhaps the greatest figure in 19th-century French art, Delacroix was one of the most accomplished colourists of all time, and was responsible for a shift away from the meticulous but pallid techniques of Jean Ingres and Jacques Louis David. A man of immense energy, he interested himself in politics and literature (he was a friend of George Sand, whom he painted). The daily journal which he kept from the age of 23 until his death records fascinating details of his life and work.

  • Johnson, Lee Delacroix (1963).
© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2011

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