Delacroix an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art, New York City

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - Jed Perl

Delacroix an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Musée du Lou­vre, Paris, March 29–July 23, 2018; and the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art, New York City, Septem­ber 17, 2018– Jan­uary 6, 2019.

Cat­a­log of the ex­hi­bi­tion by Sébastien Al­lard and Côme Fabre, with con­tri­bu­tions by Do­minique de Font-Réaulx, Michèle Han­noosh, Me­hdi Kor­chane, and Asher Miller. Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art,

314 pp., $65.00

(dis­trib­uted by Yale Univer­sity Press)

Devo­tion to Draw­ing:

The Karen B. Co­hen Col­lec­tion of Eugène Delacroix an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art, New York City,

July 17–No­vem­ber 12, 2018.

Cat­a­log of the ex­hi­bi­tion by Ash­ley E. Dunn, with con­tri­bu­tions by Colta Ives and Mar­jorie Shel­ley. Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art,

176 pp., $30.00 (pa­per)

(dis­trib­uted by Yale Univer­sity Press)

Color is Eugène Delacroix’s hero. He fights for color. He lives for color. His oil paint­ings are lux­u­ri­ous or­ches­tra­tions of fever­ish reds, vel­vety blues, dusky pur­ples, as­trin­gent or­anges, and shim­mer­ing greens. In his works on pa­per, some of the same colors, pre­sented as iso­lated el­e­ments, be­come re­fresh­ingly aus­tere. There is noth­ing that this gi­ant of nine­teenth-cen­tury French paint­ing can­not do with color. If his art is un­easy, it’s be­cause his color is never easy. He flirts with chro­matic chaos. He yearns for chro­matic cathar­sis. “The very sight of my pal­ette,” he once wrote, “freshly set out with the colors in their con­trasts is enough to fire my en­thu­si­asm.” How­ever alien we may find some of his gaudy fan­tasies and mega­lo­ma­ni­a­cal am­bi­tions, there is no ques­tion that he is an artist who knows how to fill our eyes.

What’s de­mor­al­iz­ing about the ret­ro­spec­tive that is cur­rently at the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York is that Delacroix’s col­oris­tic ge­nius is so hard to find. The sepul­chral in­stal­la­tion muf­fles and some­times even stran­gles his work. Is this the mu­seum’s idea of what it takes to set a mood wor­thy of Delacroix’s rep­u­ta­tion as the leader of the Ro­man­tic move­ment in France? There is hardly any am­bi­ent light in the gal­leries. Most of the walls are painted a black­ish-blue or a brown­ish-pur­ple. Mu­se­um­go­ers find them­selves thrust from one awk­wardly spotlit paint­ing to an­other, as if they were see­ing them as part of the Dis­ney World Haunted Man­sion ride. Asher Miller, the cu­ra­tor who or­ga­nized the ret­ro­spec­tive, may have wor­ried that if he didn’t give Delacroix’s work a shot of hor­ror-show light­ing, the artist, who was sixty-five when he died in Paris in 1863, would seem a fig­ure adrift in early-twen­ty­first-cen­tury Man­hat­tan. Miller and his team have re­fused to stand back and let him speak for him­self. They’ve turned even Delacroix’s sub­tlest dra­mas into murky melo­dra­mas.

There is no ques­tion that a Delacroix ret­ro­spec­tive poses chal­lenges. At a time when we are grap­pling with doubts and di­min­ish­ments in so many ar­eas of our so­cial, cul­tural, and po­lit­i­cal life, mu­se­um­go­ers may find them­selves non­plussed by the bull­dozer Ro­man­ti­cism of some of his work. Delacroix’s grand­est can­vases, along with Hec­tor Ber­lioz’s op­er­atic and sym­phonic works and Vic­tor Hugo’s plays, nov­els, and po­ems, have a sweep and an in­sis­tence that can strike us as not so much au­thor­i­ta­tive as au­thor­i­tar­ian. We may pre­fer our Ro­man­tic painters to be philo­soph­i­cal and skep­ti­cal and neu­rotic, like the Ger­man Casper David Friedrich, or pas­toral and con­tem­pla­tive, like the English­men John Con­sta­ble and J. M.W. Turner. Delacroix, who very much ad­mired Con­sta­ble’s land­scapes, cer­tainly had a qui­etis­tic side, which was re­flected in the sen­si­tiv­ity with which he painted dark­ened in­te­ri­ors, shad­owy glades, and boats in shim­mer­ing wa­ter. He was a man of many parts. Even in his own day the pub­lic did not al­ways find it easy to pin him down. The art his­to­rian Lorenz Eit­ner once ob­served that Delacroix’s “was the strangest fate of any artist of his time: he was mis­un­der­stood and cel­e­brated; he hated the spirit of his cen­tury, and yet rep­re­sented it more com­pletely than any other pain­ter.” Delacroix was born with many ad­van­tages. If he grew up to be some­thing of a skep­tic, it may have been be­cause the comforts and priv­i­leges that he had taken for granted when he was a boy were taken away from him when he was a young man. His fa­ther, Charles Delacroix, held im­por­tant govern­ment po­si­tions. His mother, Vic­toire Oeben, came from a fam­ily that in­cluded some of the most cel­e­brated cab­i­net­mak­ers in eigh­teenth-cen­tury Paris. Eugène, the youngest of their four chil­dren, lacked for noth­ing. There has long been a tra­di­tion that Delacroix’s real fa­ther was the diplo­mat and politi­cian Tal­leyrand, who was a friend of the fam­ily,

although Barthélémy Jobert, whose bi­og­ra­phy of the artist has just been pub­lished in a re­vised edi­tion, is skep­ti­cal of those claims.*

For Delacroix, whose par­ents died when he was still young and who saw the fam­ily’s fi­nances col­lapse in the rapidly chang­ing po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic cli­mate of the early nine­teenth cen­tury, some deeply in­grained sense of en­ti­tle­ment must have ar­mored him as he nav­i­gated the treach­er­ous art world of nine­teenth-cen­tury Paris. From an early age he knew that he was go­ing to have to sup­port him­self. That was no easy mat­ter, even with the ad­van­tage that his dis­tin­guished fam­ily con­nec­tions prob­a­bly gave him with some of the of­fi­cials who at the time con­trolled most of an artist’s routes to suc­cess. Dur­ing a ca­reer that spanned more than forty years, Delacroix ex­plored a phe­nom­e­nal range of sub­jects: Old Tes­ta­ment and New Tes­ta­ment sto­ries; scenes from Dante, Shake­speare, and Goethe; sev­eral cen­turies of French his­tory; North African life; the po­lit­i­cal up­heavals of his own mo­ment; por­traits, land­scapes, seascapes, nudes, and stud­ies of an­i­mals and flow­ers. There is no way to con­sider Delacroix’s art and life with­out be­ing plunged al­most head-first into the mael­strom of nine­teenth-cen­tury Paris. While he was no great ad­mirer of Balzac’s nov­els, Delacroix was shaped by the pressure-cooker cul­tural at­mos­phere that Balzac im­mor­tal­ized in Lost Il­lu­sions, The Un­known Mas­ter­piece, and other vol­umes of the Comédie Hu­maine. Delacroix was him­self a writer of con­sid­er­able pow­ers; his Jour­nal stands with Cellini’s Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and Van Gogh’s let­ters among the few in­stances of a vis­ual artist pro­duc­ing pages of prose that have in­de­pen­dent lit­er­ary value. In Delacroix’s Jour­nal the flash­ing in­sights into his own art are freely min­gled with one of the great ac­counts of a cre­ative life lived day by day. It’s all there: the friend­ships with Ge­orge Sand and Chopin; the count­less ex­haust­ing evenings at re­cep­tions, din­ners, and con­certs; the ex­cite­ment of assig­na­tions and in­fat­u­a­tions; the mad­den­ing hus­tle for com­mis­sions; the yearn­ing for coun­try life and the cease­less pull of the city; and the stal­wart house­keeper, Jenny Le Guil­lou, who be­came per­haps his clos­est friend.

As an artist Delacroix was a sto­ry­teller, a fab­u­list. Ev­ery­thing we know about his life can be­come a stum­bling block when we’re look­ing at his work. We are in dan­ger of lit­er­al­iz­ing with hard facts what he meant to mythol­o­gize with sump­tu­ous color. We shouldn’t make too much of the de­tails of his six-month trip to North Africa as part of an official govern­ment del­e­ga­tion in 1832, or his front-row seat as the af­fair be­tween Sand and Chopin ig­nited and even­tu­ally flamed out, or his friend­ship with Baude­laire, who was a fer­vent ad­mirer of his work and wrote an im­pas­sioned trib­ute af­ter his death. When he was paint­ing, Delacroix wanted the story he was telling to take on a life of its own—not a nine­teen­th­cen­tury life but a life that ex­ploded the trap­pings of his own time and place. In the Jour­nal he spoke of “pic­to­rial li­cence,” of “an el­e­ment of im­pro­vi­sa­tion in the ex­e­cu­tion of a pain­ter,” and of “be­gin­ning to de­velop a rhythm, a pow­er­ful spi­ral mo­men­tum.”

For this man who loved to make wa­ter­color stud­ies of the pat­terns of

North African tex­tiles, color was the magic car­pet that lib­er­ated his sub­jects, turn­ing fixed facts into ope­nended themes and vari­a­tions. Nowhere is this more true than in Women of Al­giers in Their Apart­ment (1834), which is with­out a doubt the linch­pin of the ex­hi­bi­tion at the Metropoli­tan. We are lucky that it is here, since some of Delacroix’s most im­por­tant works, in­cluded in the larger ver­sion of the ex­hi­bi­tion that was seen at the Lou­vre—among them Lib­erty Lead­ing the Peo­ple and the thir­teen-foot-high Death of Sar­dana­palus—have not made the trip to New York.

Women of Al­giers, which fas­ci­nated and at times even ob­sessed both Matisse and Pi­casso, is one of the great enig­mas of early mod­ern art, as weird in its way as Gérard de Ner­val’s novella Sylvie. Delacroix’s can­vas has noth­ing to do with the soft­core fan­tasies that finicky Ori­en­tal­ist painters served up in the sa­lons. As schol­ars have pointed out in re­cent years, he him­self made the dis­tinc­tion with his ti­tle, which lo­cates these women “in their apart­ment”—not “in a harem.” While Jean-Léon Gérôme painted scenes in which women were of­ten quite lit­er­ally be­ing groomed for sex, Delacroix’s women, with their easy lan­guorous au­thor­ity, may push us to won­der, as Rilke won­dered about Pi­casso’s Fam­ily of Sal­tim­ban­ques a cen­tury later, “But tell me, who are they?” With Women of Al­giers, Delacroix’s pow­ers of painterly im­pro­vi­sa­tion con­found what­ever an­thro­po­log­i­cal or so­ci­o­log­i­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tion his con­tem­po­raries—or ours, for that mat­ter—might want to im­pose on the can­vas. The drama is fu­eled by his ar­rest­ing jux­ta­po­si­tions of throb­bing reds and greens. What pushes these chro­matic dis­so­nances to dizzy­ing heights is the lin­ear vigor with which Delacroix, like all the great col­orists, works his paint.

The four women—three of them are seated while the fourth, a dark­skinned ser­vant, walks away—achieve a ca­su­ally mon­u­men­tal power. Their poses are re­laxed yet in­evitable, as if or­di­nary mo­bil­ity had been myth­i­cally im­mo­bi­lized. Each de­tail—the turn of an arm or a fin­ger, the ar­tic­u­la­tion of a shoe, a rug, a pil­low, a cabi­net door— com­pli­cates the equa­tion. No artist has squeezed more vis­ual drama from the con­trast be­tween dark hair and pale skin. The pur­pose of a woman in a harem dis­solves in the con­tem­pla­tive play­ful­ness of Delacroix’s arabesques. The woman half re­clin­ing in the fore­ground, who re­gards us with her im­pon­der­able dark eyes, is nei­ther vic­tim nor vic­tor. She is more like a mes­sen­ger, a demigod pre­sid­ing over the im­pos­si­ble abyss that sep­a­rates Real­ism from Ro­man­ti­cism. What it all adds up to can­not be de­scribed ex­cept as a feast for the eyes. That’s the ideal to which Delacroix has ded­i­cated Women of Al­giers. The open­ness and am­bi­gu­ity of Delacroix’s art were rec­og­nized by his con­tem­po­raries, who saw mul­ti­ply­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties even in an un­abashedly po­lit­i­cal and timely work such as Lib­erty Lead­ing the Peo­ple, with its in­deli­ble im­age of a bare-breasted young woman car­ry­ing the tri­col­ore. Painted in 1830, im­me­di­ately af­ter Delacroix wit­nessed the July Rev­o­lu­tion, with street fight­ing in Paris pre­cip­i­tat­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of a new con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy, Lib­erty Lead­ing the Peo­ple was a few years later de­scribed by the critic Théophile Thoré as “both his­tory and al­le­gory. Is this a young woman of the peo­ple? Is it the spirit of lib­erty? It is both; it is, if you will, lib­erty in­car­nate in a young woman.”

Alexan­dre Du­mas, who was with Delacroix on the streets of Paris dur­ing the three days of the July Rev­o­lu­tion, ob­served the mixed en­thu­si­asms of the artist, who shared his fa­ther’s ad­mi­ra­tion for Napoleon but couldn’t fail to feel the ex­cite­ment of what seemed at the time to be a pop­u­lar up­ris­ing. How­ever con­flicted Delacroix’s sym­pa­thies might have been, all that fi­nally mat­tered to him was a vis­ual ide­ol­ogy— what might be called the pol­i­tics of color, line, and form. Years later, writ­ing about Delacroix’s The En­try of the Cru­saders into Con­stantino­ple, Baude­laire found that “its stormy and mourn­ful har­mony” pushed the artist to set “sub­ject mat­ter” aside and con­cen­trate on his gift for “melt­ing drama and reverie into a mys­te­ri­ous unity.”

In the de­bates be­tween the Ro­man­tics and the Clas­si­cists that de­fined the bat­tle lines in nine­teenth-cen­tury French art, there was never any doubt that Delacroix stood at the head of the Ro­man­tics. But any­body who lingers with his work or his writ­ings can see that his po­si­tion was much more com­plex. He dug deep into his pen­chant for un­bri­dled emo­tions in the many lith­o­graphs he de­voted to Goethe’s Faust. And his lith­o­graphs and paint­ings based on Shake­spearean char­ac­ters, sto­ries, and themes are cer­tainly among his most sa­vory achieve­ments. Shake­speare, who dis­cov­ered the won­der­fully or­ganic shape of his plays amid the com­pet­ing per­son­al­i­ties and des­tinies of his he­roes and hero­ines, may have em­bold­ened Delacroix as he broke with the rigid struc­tures cel­e­brated by French Clas­si­cism. But as much as Delacroix em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of in­stinct and im­pro­vi­sa­tion, he was also pre­oc­cu­pied with the clas­si­cal val­ues of clar­ity, clo­sure, and per­fec­tion.

When it came to mu­sic, which was one of Delacroix’s great­est pas­sions, he never felt that any­thing could ri­val Mozart’s lu­cid­ity. One day in 1847, Delacroix found him­self in a dis­cus­sion in

his stu­dio about the rel­a­tive virtues of Beethoven and Mozart. A pupil, the pain­ter Gre­nier de Saint-Martin, told his teacher that he ranked him, along with Beethoven and Shake­speare, among the “un­ruly stu­dents of na­ture.” Delacroix couldn’t help but ap­pre­ci­ate the com­pli­ment. There was some dis­cus­sion as to whether Mozart, “in spite of his di­vine per­fec­tion,” could ever reach the emo­tional heights they knew from Beethoven. There was a “melan­choly” and maybe even a ro­man­ti­cism in Beethoven that some might miss in Mozart. And yet, Delacroix con­cluded, Mozart’s Don Gio­vanni “is full of this feel­ing.” As to how feel­ing and per­fec­tion could fi­nally be joined, that was a ques­tion to which Delacroix may have felt that he never re­ally found the an­swer.

Ever the in­tel­lec­tual ad­ven­turer, Delacroix couldn’t ig­nore the great va­ri­ety of imag­i­na­tive modes and man­ners avail­able to a pain­ter. We know that he revered Rubens, whose su­per­charged com­po­si­tions will for­ever be as­so­ci­ated with the pomp and cir­cum­stance of court life and ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal life in sev­en­teenth-cen­tury Europe. In the op­u­lent au­dac­i­ties of Rubens’s Maria de’ Medici cy­cle, Delacroix dis­cov­ered com­po­si­tional strate­gies that would serve him well. From Rubens he learned how to gather his bend­ing and shift­ing fig­ures in a spi­ral or he­lix that twisted and buck­led the flat sur­face of the can­vas.

But any­one who has read the Jour­nal knows that he was al­most equally ab­sorbed in the study of Poussin, whose com­po­si­tions rep­re­sent a more con­tem­pla­tive side of sev­en­teenth-cen­tury ex­pe­ri­ence. The use of sharply con­trasted ar­eas of rel­a­tively solid color in some of Delacroix’s re­li­gious com­po­si­tions— The La­men­ta­tion and The Agony in the Gar­den come to mind—owes a debt to the blocks of color in Poussin’s late re­li­gious works. If Rubens taught Delacroix to com­pli­cate his color—to cre­ate chro­matic whirlpools and tor­na­does— Poussin showed him how to sim­plify it.

To ac­com­pany the Delacroix ret­ro­spec­tive, the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art has mounted a sep­a­rate ex­hi­bi­tion of the artist’s works on pa­per. “De­voted to Draw­ing” show­cases the col­lec­tion of more than 130 works that Karen B. Co­hen is giv­ing to the mu­seum. Pre­sented with beau­ti­ful straight­for­ward­ness in a se­ries of three well-lit gal­leries, the Delacroix draw­ing show in­vites mu­se­um­go­ers to en­gage with the artist’s pro­cesses in ways that are well-nigh im­pos­si­ble given the over­bear­ing pre­sen­ta­tion of the ret­ro­spec­tive. Delacroix’s draw­ings are very much works-in­progress: pro­vi­sional, ex­per­i­men­tal, open-ended. Whether his medium is graphite, crayon, or pen and ink, he’s reach­ing for the big forms and the big move­ments. He in­di­cates pla­nar shifts not with crosshatch­ing but with quick bursts (one might al­most call them fusil­lades) of par­al­lel lines. In the draw­ings you feel his muscular mas­tery. He’s wrestling im­ages onto the page. When he in­tro­duces color, the emo­tional tem­per­a­ture dra­mat­i­cally shifts. In the wa­ter­col­ors he made dur­ing his visit to Mo­rocco in 1832 and in a pas­tel of a sun­set from around 1850, Delacroix demon­strates a mod­esty and scrupu­lous­ness that can leave mu­se­um­go­ers hold­ing their breath.

Delacroix keeps re­veal­ing dif­fer­ent sides of his per­son­al­ity. Even in Paris, a mu­seum is not nec­es­sar­ily the best place to take the full mea­sure of his achieve­ment. He spent much of his life en­gaged in elab­o­rate com­mis­sions both from the church and the state. Vis­i­tors to Paris must plan care­fully if they are to have any chance of see­ing the im­mense dec­o­ra­tive cy­cles that he pro­duced in the Palais Bour­bon and Palais du Lux­em­bourg in the 1840s. But it is for­tu­nate that of all Delacroix’s ef­forts to go head to head with the mas­ters of the Re­nais­sance and the Baroque, the great­est re­mains the most ac­ces­si­ble. Any­one can walk into the Church of Saint-Sulpice on the Left Bank and linger over his Ja­cob Wrestling with the An­gel. (The Metropoli­tan ret­ro­spec­tive in­cludes a mag-

nif­i­cent full-color com­po­si­tional study for the paint­ing.)

In a de­scrip­tion of Ja­cob Wrestling with the An­gel, Delacroix wrote of “the tests that God sends some­times to his elect.” This story of a mor­tal’s strug­gle with the di­vine ob­vi­ously had a very per­sonal sig­nif­i­cance for Delacroix, who never stopped wrestling with his own im­mense am­bi­tions. The as­ton­ish­ing re­sult, more than twenty-four feet high, is a para­dox­i­cal mas­ter­piece. By set­ting his an­cient sub­ject in a land­scape that he knew well—the for­est of Sé­nart at Cham­prosay, near Paris, where he owned a house—Delacroix man­ages to tele­scope time and space. The im­mense tree that dom­i­nates the com­po­si­tion is both nat­u­ral­is­tic and totemic. Delacroix makes the bib­li­cal con­flict feel ter­ri­fy­ingly, tri­umphantly

in­ti­mate. This is that rare vi­sion of the Old Tes­ta­ment that could ac­tu­ally hold its own amid the sec­u­lar forces that were gain­ing strength all through the nine­teenth cen­tury.

Ja­cob Wrestling with the An­gel is one of the tri­umphs of Delacroix’s later years in which he was be­gin­ning to think of nar­ra­tives as mood po­ems. In or­ga­niz­ing the ret­ro­spec­tive, Asher Miller was right to play around some with the chronol­ogy of Delacroix’s ca­reer; this en­abled him to more ef­fec­tively present Delacroix’s work as a se­ries of themes and vari­a­tions. But there was no good rea­son to place two of the great­est con­tem­pla­tive com­po­si­tions of Delacroix’s later decades near the front of the show, in a grab-bag gallery ded­i­cated to “The Im­age of the Artist.” They are sum­ming-up vi­sions and they should have come near the end.

One of these is a small paint­ing, Michelan­gelo in His Stu­dio, in which the artist is en­veloped by the ghost­like pres­ence of his own sculp­ture. Michelan­gelo, seated with his head rest­ing on one hand, is al­most im­mo­bi­lized by the melan­choly that Delacroix must have be­lieved al­ways ac­com­pa­nied the act of cre­ation and the yearn­ing for per­fec­tion. There is a sense here of the artist as not ac­tive but pas­sive, not a cre­ator but a re­ceiver. The tra­di­tion of which Michelan­gelo was a part had be­gun long be­fore him and would sur­vive long af­ter he was gone. An artist was al­ways in the mid­dle of things, sub­ject to the va­garies of for­tune and the whims of fate.

That same tragic sense suf­fuses Ovid Among the Scythi­ans, which he com­pleted in 1859, only four years be­fore his death (see il­lus­tra­tion on page 14). Painted around the same time as Ja­cob Wrestling with the An­gel, it is an­other work in which Delacroix, per­haps think­ing of Poussin, turned his­tory paint­ing into a kind of land­scape paint­ing. Ovid Among the Scythi­ans, which takes as its sub­ject the ban­ish­ment of Ovid from Rome to the shores of the Black Sea by the em­peror Au­gus­tus, is a study of the artist as out­sider. Delacroix had al­ready used the sub­ject for one of his dec­o­ra­tions in the Palais Bour­bon in 1844, and re­turn­ing to it fif­teen years later he shifted from the heroic to the lyric mode.

The poet, a rel­a­tively small, re­clin­ing fig­ure dressed in blue and white, is nearly over­whelmed by the easy op­u­lence of the emer­ald-green land­scape,

with its gen­tle hills, curv­ing seashore, dis­tant blue moun­tains, and cloudspat­tered sky. Dis­posed here and there across the land­scape are some­thing like twelve fig­ures. A group of Scythi­ans humbly ap­proaches the great poet, of­fer­ing to share their meal with him. A boy stands watch­ing, ac­com­pa­nied by a beau­ti­ful dog. In the fore­ground an enor­mous black mare is be­ing milked by a kneel­ing man. It is the land­scape it­self, with its pen­e­trat­ing green punc­tu­ated here and there by grace notes of red, blue, yel­low, or­ange, and black, that tells the story. The paint­ing sug­gests the slow move­ment in a great sonata or con­certo. Delacroix’s vis­ual rhythms are so as­sured that he can risk sta­sis. Ev­ery­thing is curv­ing, curl­ing, lilt­ing, turn­ing, crest­ing, ebbing, flowing. Time nearly stops but never re­ally stops. In a stir­ring self-por­trait painted around 1837, when he was al­most forty, Delacroix rep­re­sented him­self as the Ro­man­tic hero, a darkly dra­matic fig­ure sure to at­tract at­ten­tion in ev­ery fash­ion­able draw­ing room in Paris. Twenty years later he was no longer so sure that the artist shaped his own destiny. He found him­self think­ing about an artist in ex­ile, whom he en­vi­sioned as nearly van­ish­ing in a land­scape that Baude­laire de­scribed as “a rich and fer­tile drift of reverie.” The paint­ing it­self was now the pro­tag­o­nist. Per­haps that had al­ways been the case. Rarely has an artist been si­mul­ta­ne­ously as self-con­fi­dent and as self-ef­fac­ing as Eugène Delacroix. Those who dis­miss his work as Ro­man­tic bom­bast may be un­will­ing to con­front their own Ro­man­tic un­cer­tainty. Delacroix’s art re­mains a gor­geous enigma.

Eugène Delacroix: Ovid Among the Scythi­ans, 1859

Eugène Delacroix: Women of Al­giers in Their Apart­ment, 1834

Eugène Delacroix: The Giaour on Horse­back, 1824–1826

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