With a swish of his brush dipped in earthy watercolor tones, Eugène Delacroix created paintings depicting wild and dangerous scenes. “Colour always occupies me, but drawing preoccupies me.” From the terror of war to the surprise attack of a lion, Eugene could convey emotion skillfully through each brush stroke. A famous French romantic painter and illustrator, his use of color inspired many other artists in the development of both the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting, leaving his mark in the art world for centuries to come.
Eugene was born on April 26, 1798, in Charenton-Saint-Maurice, France. His father died when he was very young and when he was 16 years his old, his mother died, leaving him as an orphan. An old family friend named Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (who was also an ambassador of France in Great Britain), took him him and put him through school and encouraged his interest in art. Charles was also thought by some to be his real father, since Eugene had quite physical resemblance to him as an adult. While in school, Eugene won many awards for his work and in 1819, started training with artist Pierre-Narcisse Guérin in the neoclassical style of Jacques-Louis David. That same year he was commissioned by the church to create the painting “The Virgin of the Harvest” and success followed most his artistic adventures.
A few years later, Eugene created several paintings showing his support towards the Greeks in their war for independence from the Turks and was quickly realized as a leading painter in the newly formed romantic style. However, this work did attract the negative attention of his art critics, calling these paintings a “massacre of art”.
His second painting featuring the Greeks, Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1826), conveys the feeling of horror and heartbreak when the Turks gained control over the city of Missolonghi. The painting features a woman with her arms half-raised looking upon the scene of hundreds of dead Greeks and the ruble of her fallen city, as the Greeks chose to kill themselves and destroy their city them submit to the control of the Turks. Eugene created these paintings not only as a symbol of the people of the city of Missolonghi and the idea of freedom against tyrannical rule, but also because of the fact that the poet Byron whom Eugene had admired and was also a great friend of his had died there.
In 1825, Eugene when on a trip to England that ultimately led to him illustrating Shakespeare and creating lithographs and paintings from Goethe’s Faust. He also traveled to North Africa, Morocco and other countries in Europe and the middle east.
Later in his life Eugene was one of the founding members of the National Society of Fine Arts, which was a huge success and had many prominent artists included in their exhibit. After Eugene’s death in 1863, the group held one last exhibit of his work–nearly 250 paintings and lithographs but their founding member before closing it’s doors to future exhibits.
- After Eugene’s death, there was a huge sale of his work, with 6,629 drawings, 1,525 pastels, 853 paintings, 109 lithographs and 60 sketch books– over 9,140 artistic creations in total!
- Many artists in the following generations where inspired by Eugene’s paintings and artistic movement. Edgar Degas bought one of Eugene’s portrait works, and famed artists such as Manet and Renoir created copies of his work to study the anatomy of his paintings. Even in recent times, Eugene’s paintings have struck a cord in modern day artists. Contemporary Chinese artist Yue Minjun painting a version of ” Massacre of Chios “, inspired by Eugenes’ painting of the same name. However, Yue Minjun’s painting happened to sell in 2007 for nearly $4.1 million USD. I wonder what Eugene might think of that.
- Eugene made the news once again in 2012, when one of his drawings was discovered along with nearly 1,300 art works worth over $1 billion in Munich, Germany, that had been stolen by the Nazis. Read the fascinating article about it’s discovery here.