1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Delacroix, Ferdinand Victor Eugène
DELACROIX, FERDINAND VICTOR EUGÈNE (1798-1863), French historical painter, leader of the Romantic movement, was born at Charenton-St-Maurice, near Paris, on the 26th of April 1798. His father Charles Delacroix (1741-1805) was a partisan of the most violent faction during the time of the Revolution, and was foreign minister under the Directory. The family affairs seem to have been conducted in the wildest manner, and the accidents that befell the child, well authenticated as they are said to be, make it almost a miracle that he survived. He was first nearly burned to death in the cradle by a nurse falling asleep over a novel and the candle dropping on the coverlet; this left permanent marks on his arms and face. He was next dropped into the sea by another bonne, who was climbing up a ship’s side to see her lover. He was nearly poisoned, and nearly choked, and, to crown all, he tried to hang himself, without any thought of suicide, in imitation of a print exhibiting a man in that position of final ignominy. The prediction of a charlatan founded on his horoscope has been preserved: “Cet enfant deviendra un homme célèbre, mais sa vie sera des plus laborieuses, des plus tourmentées, et toujours livrée à la contradiction.”
Delacroix the elder (also known as Delacroix de Contaut) died at Bordeaux when Eugène was seven years of age, and his mother returned to Paris and placed him in the Lycée Napoléon. Afterwards, on his determining to be a painter, he entered the atelier of Baron Guérin, who affected to treat him as an amateur. His fellow-pupil was Ary Scheffer, who was alike by temperament and antecedents the opposite of the bizarre Delacroix, and the two remained antagonistic to the end of life. Delacroix’s acknowledged power and yet want of success with artists and critics—Thiers being his only advocate—perhaps mainly resulted from his bravura and rude dash in the use of the brush, at a time when smooth roundness of surface was general. His first important picture, “Dante and Virgil,” was painted in his own studio; and when Guérin went to see it he flew into a passion, and told him his picture was absurd, detestable, exaggerated. “Why ask me to come and see this? You knew what I must say.” Yet his work was received at the Salon, and produced an enthusiasm of debate (1822). Some said Géricault had worked on it, but all treated it with respect. Still in private his position, even after the larger tragic picture, the “Massacre of Chios,” had been deposited in the Luxembourg by the government (1824), became that of an Ishmaelite. The war for the freedom of Greece then going on moved him deeply, and his next two pictures—“Marino Faliero Decapitated on the Giant’s Staircase of the Ducal Palace” (which has always remained a European success), and “Greece Lamenting on the Ruins of Missolonghi”—with many smaller works, were exhibited for the benefit of the patriots in 1826. This exhibition was much visited by the public, and next year he produced another of his important works, “Sardanapalus,” from Byron’s drama. After this, he says, “I became the abomination of painting, I was refused water and salt,”—but, he adds with singularly happy naïveté, “J’étais enchanté de moi-même!” The patrimony he inherited, or perhaps it should be said, what remained of it, was 10,000 livres de rente, and with economy he lived on this, and continued the expensive process of painting large historical pictures. In 1831 he reappeared in the Salon with six works, and immediately after left for Morocco, where he found much congenial matter. Delacroix never went to Italy; he refused to go on principle, lest the old masters, either in spirit or manner, should impair his originality and self-dependence. His greatest admiration in literature was the poetry of Byron; Shakespeare also attracted him for tragic inspirations; and of course classic subjects had their turn of his easel.
He continued his work indefatigably, having his pictures very seldom favourably received at the Salon. These were sometimes very large, full of incidents, with many figures. “Drawing of Lots in the Boat at Sea,” from Byron’s Don Juan, and the “Taking of Constantinople by the Christians” were of that character, and the former was one of his noblest creations. In 1845 he was employed to decorate the library of the Luxembourg, that of the chamber of deputies in 1847, the ceiling of the gallery of Apollo in the Louvre in 1849 and that of the Salon de la Paix in the hôtel de ville in 1853. He died on the 13th of August 1863, and in August 1864 an exhibition of his works was opened on the Boulevard des Italiens. It contained 174 pictures, many of them of large dimensions, and 303 drawings, showing immense perseverance as well as energy and versatility. As a colourist, and a romantic painter, he now ranks among the greatest of French artists.
lui-même (1885); G. Moreau, Delacroix et son œuvre (1893); DorothyBussy, Eugène Delacroix (1907).