"The finest palette in France" - the 150th Day of Death of Eugène Delacroix in 2013

13 August 1863, 150 years ago, the French artist Eugène Delacroix died at the age of 65 in Paris.
“His remains the finest palette in France and nobody in our country has possessed at once such calm and pathos, such shimmering color. We all paint in him.” (Paul Cezanne)


Delacroix’s “Death of Sardanapalus” (1827), inspired by Lord Byron but illustrating a scene not told in his play, having the Assyrian King enacting a custom allegedly practised in the days of the Ancient Orient, the ruler having his concubines, horses and everything else murdered at his death to serve him in the afterlife, too. The gory spectacle caused quite a scandal in the late 1820s and was absolutely unsaleable and Delacroix had to paint “Liberty Leading the People“ (1830) to win back his audience’s favour.





Rumour has is that Delacroix was the natural son of “le diable boiteux” Talleyrand and the young man was an excellent example of what happened to a genius who was exposed to the works of Lord Byron for too long. He began to train as an artist quite early in his life, originally influenced by Rubens as well as Venetian masters of the Renaissance and occupied with religious themes á la David, who embodied the dominant neo-classical prevalent during his youth, Delacroix had his Damascus experience when he saw Géricault paint “The Raft of the Medusa” in 1819. At the age of 21, the young painter set forth to introduce Romanticism into the visual arts - and succeeded immediately.




Delacroix's firstling: "The Barque of Dante" (1822)


His first major work, “The Barque of Dante” was accepted into the Paris Salon in 1822, the state bought it and put it on exhibition in the Palais du Luxembourg. And while Delacroix delved deeper into the underbelly of the Romantic age, beginning to create masterpieces inspired by Byron, combining orientalism and violence and eroticism and myth as well as Greek independence, a visit to England and North Africa proved to be formative for his distinctive style. Delacroix began to see and paint what others only had read about, experimenting with portraits as well as landscapes and, of course, the light, composing ensembles overflowing with details from an opulence of imagination, last seen on the paintings of his old influence, Rubens.



Delacroix's iconic "Liberty Leading the People" (1830)



While Delacroix expressed his congeniality in illustrating works of Shakespeare, Goethe, Scott and imagining dark Romantic scenes from history and the Scriptures, transposing them in excellent lithographs as well, his paintings consolidated his position as leader of the French Romantic school, slowly dissolving the perfected lines, still clinging to Neoclassicism, of his chief rival Ingres to arrangements that achieve their effect by mood, colour and light and setting the scene for the next generation of artists and the groundwork of modern art.