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.”

Self-Portrait of Eugène Delacroix, 1837, Wikipedia [Public Domain]
Eugène Delacroix by Félix Nadar, Wikipedia [Public Domain]
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.

Check some of his paintings below:


Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, Wikipedia. This painting commemorates the Second French Revolution (of July 1830), which toppled King Charles X of France. Freedom is personified in the form of a woman holding the tri-color, still the national flag of France. This is Delacroix’s most influential work.


The Death of Sardanapalus by Eugène Delacroix, Wikipedia. This violent and erotic painting is based on a play by the English Romantic poet Lord Byron written in 1821 set in the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh. According to the Greek historian and physician Ctesias of Cnidus (of the 5th century BC), Sardanapalus (possibly a corruption of the name “Ashurbanipal”) was the last king of the Assyria. Here, we see a nude woman pleading before a merciless Sardanapalus. He had ordered his concubines to be murdered and possessions destroyed after his military defeat. He later immolated himself.


The Barque of Dante by Eugène Delacroix, Wikipedia. This painting is based on the eighth canto of the first part (Inferno) of The Divine Comedy, the epic religious poem composed by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri in early 14th century. Here we see a scene of Hell, in which the Dante (left) is accompanied by the Roman poet Virgil.


The Fanatics of Tangier by Eugène Delacroix, Wikipedia


Orphan Girl at the Cemetery by Eugène Delacroix, Wikipedia


Jewish Wedding in Morocco by Eugène Delacroix, Wikipedia


Columbus and His Son at La Rábida by Eugène Delacroix, Wikipedia


The Prince of Denmark Hamlet (black) with his friend Horatio (red) from Act V, Scene I of William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Hamlet (written betwen 1599 and 1602) by Eugène Delacroix, Wikipedia


Christ on the Sea of Galilee by Eugène Delacroix, Wikipedia


Shipwreck on the Coast by Eugène Delacroix, Wikipedia


The Massacre at Chios by Eugène Delacroix, Wikipedia. This painting is based on the killing of Greeks on the island of Chios by the Ottoman troops during the Greek War of Independence in 1822.


Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi by Eugène Delacroix, Wikipedia. This painting was based on the siege of the Greek town of Missolonghi by Ottoman forces in 1822-23. Greece is personified as a woman here, almost in the manner of Mary, the mother of Christ.


Lion Hunt by Eugène Delacroix, Wikipedia


Arabian Fantasy by Eugène Delacroix, Wikipedia


The Last Words of Emperor Marcus Aurelius by Eugène Delacroix, Wikipedia


Further Reading:

Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction (2010) by Michael Ferber

The Romantic Revolution: A History (2012) by Tim Blanning

Romanticism: An Anthology (2012) by Duncan Wu

The Roots of Romanticism (The A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts) (1999/2013) by Isaiah Berlin

The Quest for the Absolute: The Birth and Decline of European Romanticism (2013) by Louis Dupre

Romanticism and Art (1994) by William Vaughan

Delacroix: Art and Ideas (2015) by Simon Lee

Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art (2015) by Patrick Noon and Christopher Riopelle

Delacroix and His Forgotten World (2015) by Margaret MacNimdhe

Orientalism (1979) by Edward W. Said

Journal of Delacroix (1995) by Hubert Wellington



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