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Described by the French poet Charles Baudelaire as a “curious mixture of skepticism, politeness, dandyism, willpower, cleverness, despotism, and finally, a kind of special goodness and tenderness that always accompanies genius” [quoted in Delacroix(1998) by Barthélémy Jobert], the French draughtsman, lithographer, painter and muralist Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix (1798 – 1863) was a towering figure of the Romantic movement. In his 1988 book An Outline of 19th Century European Painting: From David Through Cezanne, the Czechoslovakia-born art historian Lorenz Eitner (1919-2009), who was director of the Stanford Museum, recognised Delacroix’s versatility and called him “the last great European painter to use the repertory of humanistic art with conviction and originality”, in whose hands, “antique myth and medieval history, Golgotha and the Barricade, Faust and Hamlet, Scott and Byron, tiger and Odalisque yielded images of equal power.”
Delacroix was born in Charenton-Saint-Maurice near Paris to Victoire Oeben, the daughter of a renowned cabinet-maker, and the diplomat Charles-François Delacroix (though it is possible that his biological father was the statesman Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, a friend of the family). Tutored by the painter Pierre Guérin (who had also taught Théodore Géricault, a great influence on Delacroix), he went to study at École des Beaux-Arts and would later copy the Old Masters at the Louvre, particularly the Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. In 1832, he visited Spain, Morocco and Algiers as part of a diplomatic entourage and encountered an exoticism that would fuel his artistry for years.
Delacroix was unusually prolific, leaving behind some 9000 works in his studio. He was also an enthusiastic letter- and journal writer. He was awarded many honours for his “charm, intelligence and dashing good looks” and was highly in demand in fashionable society. However, he remained fairly solitary and never married. He had few friends, among them another Romantic genius, the Polish pianist Frédéric Chopin, whom he called “the truest artist I’ve ever met” and whose portrait he painted. [Ian Chilvers in The Oxford Dictionary of Art (2004)]
Delacroix’s vibrant and energetic use of colours inspired a wide range of artists, among them Monet, van Gogh, Renoir and Cezanne.
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