Born in France 22 years after Constable, Eugene Delacroix fine-tuned Romanticism, incorporating the influences of English Romantic landscapists, including those developed by John Constable.
Delacroix’ mother Victoire was the daughter of a cabinet maker. His father was probably not Victoire’s husband, but the French politician and aide to Napoleon, Charles Talleyrand. He married an actress, Harriet Smithson, with whom he fathered two sons.
Arousing intense emotion
Delacroix approach to painting drove his audience through a whirlwind journey from the deepest troughs of suffering, fear, and despair to the highest peaks of rapture and energy. He drew on themes from mythology, literature, the mysterious East and contemporary history, all treated with the same emotional intensity. He had a talent for arousing emotion in others by showing pain and suffering, using brightly coloured canvases designed to stimulate the emotions and stir the soul.
- Liberty Leading the People (1830-31) is Delacroix’ most famous Romantic masterpiece marking the three-day French Revolution of 1830. The symbolic figure of Liberty leads the people in a battle over oppressive forces. The painting represents the fierce and determined spirit of the French people (see image two above for a detail from this painting).
- For enlightening discussion on the violent times in which Delacroix lived and worked, click on this link – Delacroix and Liberty Leading the People
Respect for John Constable
Fellow Frenchman, Theodore Gericault had communicated his enthusiasm for John Constable’ work to Delacroix after he had seen Constable’s Haywain at the Royal Academy in London in 1821. The Haywain had remained unsold in England but a French dealer John Arrowsmith (he could barely speak any English despite his English name) had bought the painting from John Constable and exhibited it in his gallery, where Delacroix viewed it twice.
It was Constable’s genius for imparting freshness and the sparkle of light that Delacroix most admired. Consequently he adopted Constable’s energetic dashes of colour and white and the use of impasto to mark and reflect light.
Welcomes advice from John Constable
In 1825, Delacroix visited London where it seems he met John Constable. By this time, several works of Constable had passed into French hands and these included one of Constable’s sketch books coming into Delacroix’ possession. Musing on its contents and his meeting with Constable, Delacroix reflected:
‘Constable says that the superiority of the green in his meadows is due to the fact that it is composed of a multitude of different greens…. what he says about the green of his grasslands can be applied to all other tones‘ (Delacroix Journals 1824-46).
It is said that Delacroix:
- made his style of painting in the Massacre of Chios lighter and more vibrant after seeing Constable’s work – a real tribute by a great painter to a contemporary
- hailed Constable as ‘the father’ of modern French landscape painting (in 1858)
Paintings by Delacroix include:
- Massacre at Chios (1824) in which 20,000 Greeks died at the hands of the Turks in the Greek War of Independence (see image three above for a detail from this painting)
- Execution of the Doge (1825-6)
- Arab Horseman attacked by a Lion (1850)
End of Life
At the age of 65 Delacroix died in Paris and was buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery.