Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art

Art, Painting
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 (Eugène Delacroix: 'The Death of Sardanapalus (reduced replica)', 1846. © Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania)
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Eugène Delacroix: 'The Death of Sardanapalus (reduced replica)', 1846. © Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
 (Eugène Delacroix: 'Women of Algiers in their Apartment', 1847-9. © Musee Fabre, Montpellier Agglomeration)
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Eugène Delacroix: 'Women of Algiers in their Apartment', 1847-9. © Musee Fabre, Montpellier Agglomeration
 (Eugène Delacroix: 'Convulsionists of Tangier', 1837-8. © The Minneapolis Institute of Art)
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Eugène Delacroix: 'Convulsionists of Tangier', 1837-8. © The Minneapolis Institute of Art
 (Vincent van Gogh: 'Pietà (after Delacroix)', 1889. © Van Gogh Museum )
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Vincent van Gogh: 'Pietà (after Delacroix)', 1889. © Van Gogh Museum
 (Paul Cézanne: 'The Battle of Love', about 1880. © National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC)
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Paul Cézanne: 'The Battle of Love', about 1880. © National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
 (Eugène Delacroix: 'Bathers', 1854. © Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut)
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Eugène Delacroix: 'Bathers', 1854. © Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut
 (Eugène Delacroix: 'Lion Hunt', 1861. © The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois )
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Eugène Delacroix: 'Lion Hunt', 1861. © The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
 (Paul Gauguin: 'I Raro Te Oviri (Under the Pandanus)', 1891. © The Minneapolis Institute of Art)
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Paul Gauguin: 'I Raro Te Oviri (Under the Pandanus)', 1891. © The Minneapolis Institute of Art
 (Eugène Delacroix: 'Christ on the Sea of Galilee', 1853. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
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Eugène Delacroix: 'Christ on the Sea of Galilee', 1853. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
 (Odilon Redon: 'The Red Barque', about 1895. Musée d'Orsay, Paris)
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Odilon Redon: 'The Red Barque', about 1895. Musée d'Orsay, Paris
 (Eugène Delacroix: 'Self Portrait', about 1837. © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) )
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Eugène Delacroix: 'Self Portrait', about 1837. © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre)

The audacious, under-appreciated Romantic painter steps into the spotlight in this blockbuster show

Sex, love, death, war… Lions. More death. Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) isn’t for delicate blooms (those of a fragile disposition should head instead to the Royal Academy’s ‘Painting the Modern Garden’). But if massacres and revolutions are your thing, then fill your boots at the National Gallery, where the French Romantic painter serves up scenes of sword-plunging, foe-slaying, flesh-conquering fantasy unrivalled in nineteenth century art.

Born during the dying days of the Revolution, Delacroix straddles eras – whether he’s the last of the Old Masters or the first of the moderns taxes scholars to this day. Certainly, he looked back to the classical tradition of taking subjects from mythology, literature and the Bible. But, as this bold and at times wayward show reveals, he was also miles ahead of his time, influencing the likes of Renoir, Van Gogh and Matisse with his sexy brushwork, exuberant colour and dizzying compositions.

Delacroix’s style of painting was as controversial as his subject matter. When his early masterpiece ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’ (1827), inspired by a play by Lord Byron, was first shown, the art establishment condemned the work for its lack of compositional focus. You’ll be more shocked by the intensely relaxed attitude to depravity of a scene in which the rotten old king, on learning of his imminent defeat, has his worldly possessions – concubines included – disposed of while leaning nonchalantly back on a pillow like he’s catching up on the latest box set.

Hanging in the Louvre, the original painting is five metres wide. Which is another thing about Delacroix. He painted big. Hop over to Paris and you’ll find his over-the-top imagery writ large across vast canvases, as well as the walls and ceilings of museums and other municipal buildings. But those works don’t travel: if they’re not attached to the architecture, they’re either too precious to French national identity (Delacroix’s ‘The 28th July: Liberty Leading the People’ (1830) is a defining image of the republic) or in such a poor state that they’re under house arrest. So, the ‘Sardanapalus’ you’ll see at the National Gallery is a reduced replica, painted a couple of decades after the original. In fact, about the largest thing by Delacroix here is ‘A Basket of Fruit in a Flower Garden’ (1848) – sultry, but a still life, nonetheless.

Does it matter? Yes and no. The National wants us to think of Delacroix as a giant. But that’s hard to do when the work on display, marvellously moody as it is, is on such a small scale. It takes a while to get your eye in, even if you’re already a fan. But it’s worth perservering, because those whirling tangles of legs, swords and manes have an awesome intensity. And, like sparks from a Catherine wheel, Delacroix’s influence showers across the art of the next half century.

What Delacroix does is give his successors permission to indulge their fantasies – as dark or daft as they might be. That long-haul post-impressionist Paul Gauguin should find inspiration in Delacroix’s travels through the ‘living antiquity’ of North Africa isn’t surprising. But even straitlaced Cézanne, that diligent measurer of trees and mountains, unloosened his cravat thanks to Delacroix, painting not only the bizarre ‘The Apotheosis of Delacroix (1890-94) in which his hero is borne aloft, naked on a cloud, but also ‘The Eternal Feminine’, a deeply disturbing ‘homage’ to woman that shrieks ‘psychosexual problems’. So, Delacroix – he’s the cool uncle of nineteenth-century art, encouraging his charges to behave badly and madly. If that isn’t quite the show’s message, it’s a whole lot of fun to behold. 

By: Martin Coomer

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Tastemaker

As someone who isn't particularly interested in art or paintings, the Delacroix exhibition was still a fascinating experience with some really interesting tidbits of information for me. It's well thought out, separating each room with a difference theme and central focus, allowing even rookies like me to feel vaguely educated, even for an hour! 


His influence on much more well known artists is now quite apparent having spent some time in the exhibit, and I soon came to recognise his use of colours and style. By the end of it I was feeling a bit "painted out", but was nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable exhibit that I would recommend to anyone, even those not interested in art!

tastemaker

Even for someone who isn’t too familiar with art, this is a very captivating exhibition, showing Delacroix’s works through time, exposing some of his less familiar projects. The way it’s connected to other painters that he was inspired by and other inspired by him, gives it additional value and teaches you about late 18th period. Other works include paintings by Metzonger, Matisee, Fantin-Latour, Signac…to name a few.

Exhibition worth paying a visit if you fancy an injection of art!

Tastemaker

A good exhibit showing different periods from Delacroix's life and the direct influence his style and technique, such ad his use of colour, had on several well-known modern artists. Much of the works on display are other artists' work after his craft.


A master I have never discovered before. Really vivid brush stroke. And it's really shocked to so such many Morden mastered influenced by him. Van Gogh's olive tree is breathtaking, and I prefer Kandinsky's dream like painting in this show than any other abstract shape and colour painting.

tastemaker

A leisurely wander through the 6 themed rooms made for a pleasant visit but it did feel a bit art "light". We purchased the exhibition guide to read through later with the hope of gaining more of an insight into the actual art of Delacroix rather than his influence on others which was the theme of the exhibition. Most of the pictures were small and I know size doesn't matter but it had a feel of a "small" glimpse rather than an overwhelming experience. In fact some of the most delicious pieces were the smallest  but it is only a general lack of "impact" overall that I felt.

Still it is worth a visit and the pictures are grouped in themes which make it a pleasant stroll.


I went with a fear of failure.  I had heard of Delacroix but beyond pronouncing his name languidly I had a hard job recalling any of his work.  I took along with me an arty friend who I knew would at least explain the subjects to me even if I still felt unsure about them.  I had read one or two critical reviews which mentioned there were not all that many actual Delacroix paintings in this exhibition, but if anything that made me even more curious.

So, on arrival in the basement of the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery I began to face my fears and allow my curiosity to take over.  I went looking for the "Death of Sardanapalus" which had been heavily featured in reviews and the publicity.  Even this small replica of the original large-scale work took my breath away.  It is complex, mysterious and hard to watch.  Where is the subject?  What is its purpose?  My arty friend showed me the use of colour trails through the painting- the touches of white, blue and red that brought the painting to life.  Once I started to appreciate Delacroix's techniques with broad brush and contrasting colours I began to understand his influence on much more well known artists such as Manet, Cezanne and Van Gogh.  I then truly began to appreciate why this exhibition entitled "Delacroix and the rise of modern art" contains only a third of paintings by Delacroix and the rest painted by several French impressionist household names.  His use of colour in the painting of fabrics and his use of brushstrokes in creating movement in water made Delacroix both a creator and an inspiration within his lifetime and for at least the next fifty years after his death.

Go and visit- take plenty of time to really examine all the paintings you enjoy and ask yourself why they appeal?  I now feel confident to go back again.


Like many i am not an art expert or someone who talks art although i do work in the arts world. I studied A level art and learnt about Picasso and cubism as well as Pointilism, Fauvism and Impressionist styles. So i wondered how on earth i had never heard of Delacroix before. After wandering the 6 rooms of this exhibition i felt even more at a loss as to how i had missed him. It's clear from the way this exhibition has been put together that Delacroix had an enormous influence on some of our most famous names within the art world. The paintings are put together in 6 different rooms and cover different aspects of his works from portraits to landscapes to North Africa etc. Paintings from other greats are placed alongside his works and clearly show the influences and developments whether using colour or subjects. There is a wide range of styles and subjects some of which you will pass by unmoved but others that will stop you in your tracks. There is humour here too and one that made me chuckle in room 4 was called Pieta by Van Gogh. Here he shows the Virgin Mary cradling the dead Christ and since Van Gogh never saw Delacroix's original he improvised and has clearly painted his own face onto that of Christ! Cheeky! Another painting that i could have looked at for many moons was in Room 5 by Monet. Called La Pointe de la Heve, Sainte-Adresse, it's a beach landscape that on quick glance could be a photograph. Brilliantly captured and heavily influenced by Delacroix as the text will explain. Should you fail to follow the developments and praise from other artists along the way in room 6 you'll find a short documentary that i feel really explains why this man was such an icon and influence for others to come. Here, the modern movement really takes off.

I left with a quote from Delacroix ringing in my ears: 'Oh Young Artist you want a subject? Everything is a subject. The subject is yourself'. Art should be open to everyone and i believe it is in ourselves and everywhere. Many of us have yet to discover the power and beauty within our lives. Delacroix filled his works with himself and his passions.

Go see for yourself! 

Tastemaker

I am no art buff, my knowledge spans from recognizing some of the most famous artists and that a painting is pretty and quite impressive. I like going to art museums because I like immersing myself in paintings and appreciate the craft going into the works. I do now know what romanticism is or post-impressionist or all that lingo. I find a lot of the time when I go to art galleries, especially with classical works, I am lost. Before going, I have to admit I had no clue who Delacroix was and why he was important, but after going to this exhibition I have learnt how influential he was and why you should appreciate what he did for the art world.This is what I liked about this exhibition, it is designed in a way in which they place the works from Delacroix and put them aside painting from better known painters to show how he influenced these greats. I really liked seeing this evolution. There are some well known paintings here, but most of these are lesser known painting from very well known artists, however I dis not mind this. I would recommend this exhibition to someone who want to learn about this period and expand their knowledge.

Tastemaker

Featuring works by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, and Cézanne, to name but a few, this exhibition of the life and works of Delacroix highlights his rise to becoming one of the first modern masters as well as his influence on both his peers and future artists.


Divided into 6 separate rooms, the exhibit takes you through the stages of Delacroix’s career and the different subject material that he used for inspiration.


Delacroix used colours from the very start of his training and therefore deviated from the traditional initial teaching methods of the time which focused on outline and clarity in black and white. Self-taught, by reproducing works by the previous greats, he soon rose to prominence befriending many of the key artists of the late 18th / early 19th centuries along the way.


Thoroughly acclaimed, Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art is a must see. I’d recommend trying to see it at a quieter time of day to allow time for full appreciation of the works on display.


As someone not very familiar with Delacroix's work -apart from the very famous pieces- the exhibition was a great opportunity to learn a lot, whilst understanding how important his influence was for the generations of artists to follow. A journey through some of his works in juxtaposition with artists like Van Gaugh, Degas, Renoir and others gives a new perspective to what was seen before. The vast theme choice of the paintings, the use of strong colours and especially the magnetising light of Delacroix are just captivating - finally understood why he's so appreciated. Do keep in mind that it takes some time to dive into his world, but as it happens gradually you don't really realise when you got there. All in all, a perfect weeknight out!

Tastemaker

The French revolutionary spirit I am could not resist to pop at the Delacroix’s exhibition at the National Gallery last weekend. Don't expect to see major paintings such as ' La Liberté Guidant le Peuple'. The exhibition is not only  about Delacroix's work. It's a fascinating journey through the 19e century, his painting techniques and the influence he had on various artist such as Gauguin, Matisse, Van Gogh, Manet, Renoir, Kandinsky. It explores how Delacroix opened up the way to modern painting with innovative techniques and how he inspired generations of artists. The info on site are very light, so I would suggest you to get an audio-guide to properly enjoy the visit.