“What I found so fine about Delacroix is precisely that he reveals the liveliness of things, and the expression and the movement, that he is utterly beyond the paint” – Vincent van Gogh, 1885


I was back at the Met this past weekend to catch up with one of the most famous, talented, renown, and one of my favorite French artists, Eugène Delacroix! The show simply titled Delacroix is offering an AMAZING retrospective on one of the most influential artists in modern history. What’s more, is that this exhibition happens to be the first retrospective devoted to the artist EVER held in North America … how lucky are we that it’s right here in New York?!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art worked closely with the Musée du Louvre to bring this exhibit to reality, and features over 150 works from the artist including paintings, lithographs, drawings, and personal journals – many of which have not been exhibited in the United States before! The exhibition proceeds in chronological order of the artists long life and career, and encompasses the vast variety of thematic inspirations that Delacroix employed in his decades-long artistic career, including mythology, religion, portraits, exotica, animals, nature, and literature. The show runs from September 17 – January 6, 2018. You can find the exhibition overview linked here.

As you begin your journey through the exhibit, the first gallery features some of Delacroix’s first paintings featured at the Paris Salons during the 1820’s. The Salon was a state-sponsored exhibit to show contemporary art, and was held at at Louvre annually. Each work of art that was displayed at the Salon was carefully selected by a panel before its acceptance – this is where Delacroix’s work started to gain recognition by collectors and art directors. Mostly portraits in this section, Delacroix shows his ability to paint sitters, himself, and historical figures (one of my favorites was Michelangelo in his Studio). It was noted in the exhibit that the close relationship he had with the Louvre and the old master paintings it holds was vital to his artistic development and taste when he was honing his talent as a teenager. The section also features Delacroix’s version of paintings within the Louvre, and a venture into painting exotic animals such as lions and tigers. 

Young Tiger Playing with its Mother (Study of Two Tigers), 1830, oil on canvas; on loan from the Musée du Louvre
"Self Portrait in Green Vest, 1837
Self-portrait in a Green Vest, ca. 1837, oil on canvas; on loan from the Musée du Louvre

As Delacroix’s artistic ability and fame grew, he became more experimental as he ventured out into new subject matters. During a six-month trip to Algeria and Morocco in 1832, Delacroix was in search for a new inspiration, and became infatuated with the people and the culture of these exotic places. The combination of his experience mixed with European imagination and excitement over exotica gave way for a brand new and completely original subject matter, and some very famous paintings. When he returned to France, his artistic reinvigoration was apparent, as he was now able to tell history paintings from a new perspective, as well as let native Europeans into a world they wouldn’t have seen otherwise.  

The Women of Algiers in their Apartment, 1834, oil on canvas; on loan from the Musée du Louvre

The show continues with paintings made mid-career, monumental in size, and mostly history paintings (biblical and mythological scenes). The few paintings shown take over the large room, and centers on Medea About to Kill her Children, flanked by St. Sebastian Tended by the Holy Women, and a crucifixion scene. At the end of his life and career, Delacroix experimented more with size, having received several commissions to paint murals for institutions around Paris, as well as paintings of land and sky to “keep up” with his now-Impressionist contemporaries. Eugène Delacroix led a very full life, and kept a decades-long career going by continuing to reinvent his artistic subject matter and style. His legacy is so lasting, that Paul Cézanne was quoted saying, “You can find all of us in … Delacroix.” A generation later Pablo Picasso said, “That bastard. He’s really good.”

Most of these paintings are permanently housed in museums in France, and carry with them a lot of historical significance and popularity, and probably won’t be able to be seen in the US for quite a while … so if you’re keen to see the show for whatever reason, definitely go!!!

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