Paintings of Eugène Delacroix: 1 Beyond Neoclassicism

Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863), Mazeppa on the Dying Horse (1824), oil on canvas, 22.5 x 31 cm, Kansallisgalleria, Ateneum, Helsinki, Finland. Wikimedia Commons.

Eugène Delacroix started painting at a challenging time. Apart from the dramatic political changes that brought first the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon as Emperor in 1804, his abdication and exile a decade later, then the Bourbon Restoration, painting was on the change as well.

Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825), The Intervention of the Sabine Women (1799), oil on canvas, 385 x 522 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

The dominant Neoclassical style of Jacques-Louis David was on the wane. With the end of Napoleon’s empire, David had been put on the list of proscribed individuals, and had gone into self-exile in Brussels. Following his death at the end of 1825, only his heart was allowed to return to France for burial. Delacroix described David’s The Intervention of the Sabine Women (1799) as “earthy, bleak and lifeless”.

Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1774–1833), Phaedra and Hippolytus (1815), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, France. The Athenaeum.

Delacroix’s teacher from 1815 was Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, whose style Delacroix openly disliked. Rubens was his preferred model for his emphasis on colour, in contrast to David and Guérin who rated line and draughtsmanship more highly.

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758–1823), Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime (1808), oil on canvas, 244 x 294 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

Of the older generation, it was perhaps Pierre-Paul Prud’hon who had greater appeal, although Delacroix would have been too young to have seen his depiction of Nemesis in Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime at the Salon in 1808.

John Constable (1776–1837), The Hay Wain (1821), oil on canvas, 130.2 × 185.4 cm, National Gallery, London. Wikimedia Commons.

Delacroix became an enthusiast for the landscape paintings of John Constable, and they proved influential early in his career.

When Constable’s The Hay Wain (1821) attracted little attention at the Royal Academy in London, and still failed to sell the following year at the British Institution, it was the French dealer John Arrowsmith who introduced the British artist’s paintings to the French market. On 19 June 1824, after Arrowsmith had bought The Hay Wain, A View on the Stour near Dedham (1822) and a small seascape of Yarmouth Jetty and exhibited them in Paris, Delacroix studied Constable’s technique.

As a result, Delacroix hastily repainted his Scenes from the Massacres at Chios (1824) immediately before it was shown at the Salon that year, in which The Hay Wain was awarded a gold medal.

Jean Louis Théodore Géricault (1791–1824), The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19), oil on canvas, 491 x 716 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

If any single painting proved the greatest inspiration to Delacroix it was Géricault’s huge The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19), and the two artists formed a close friendship that only ended with the early death of Géricault in 1824.

Théodore Géricault (1791–1824), Mazeppa (1823), oil on canvas, 29 x 21.5 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

One of Géricault’s last paintings was of Mazeppa (1823), a story that appealed to Delacroix’s generation.

Horace Vernet (1789–1863), Mazeppa and the Wolves (1826), oil on canvas, 97 x 136 cm, Calvet Museum, Avignon, France. Wikimedia Commons.

Three years later, Horace Vernet painted Mazeppa and the Wolves (1826) based on the same poem by Lord Byron.

Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863), Mazeppa on the Dying Horse (1824), oil on canvas, 22.5 x 31 cm, Kansallisgalleria, Ateneum, Helsinki, Finland. Wikimedia Commons.

Delacroix and Vernet avoided painting competing motifs, but in this case, the younger Delacroix had already painted a different scene, of Mazeppa on the Dying Horse in 1824.

Ary Scheffer (1795–1858), The Death of Théodore Géricault (1824), oil on canvas, 300 x 400 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

Ary Scheffer was another history painter in the ascendant as Delacroix was establishing himself; although the two overlapped slightly at times, any borrowing was on Scheffer’s part. They shared friendship with the declining Géricault, and it was Scheffer’s tribute on The Death of Théodore Géricault (1824) that forms the painted record.

Richard Parkes Bonington (1802–1828), Knight and Page (Goetz von Berlichingen) (c 1826) (401), oil on canvas, 46.5 x 38 cm, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT. Wikimedia Commons.

Delacroix had great respect for the work of another, more contemporary British painter, Richard Parkes Bonington, sufficient to share his studio with him. Bonington painted this Knight and Page (Goetz von Berlichingen) when they were sharing in early 1826, and left it incomplete with Delacroix when he moved out. As with Géricault, Bonington was to die early, just two years later.

Léon Cogniet (1794–1880), The Massacre of the Innocents (1824), oil on canvas, 265 x 235 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes, France. The Athenaeum.

Léon Cogniet was another important contemporary and friend, with whom Delacroix had common ground, as seen in Cogniet’s Massacre of the Innocents from 1824.

If Delacroix had a rival, it was the senior figure of JAD Ingres, with whom he competed for public commissions.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780–1867), Oedipus and the Sphinx (1808, 1827), oil on canvas, 189 x 144 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Photo courtesy of the Art Renewal Center, via Wikimedia Commons.

Ingres first painted Oedipus and the Sphinx in 1808, just two years after he had arrived in Rome as the recipient of the Prix de Rome. When sent back to Paris, it was criticised over its treatment of light, and lack of idealisation in the figures. In 1825, Ingres decided to develop it into a more narrative work, which he completed in 1827. This time it was well received.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780–1867), Roger (Ruggiero) Rescuing Angelica (1819), oil on canvas, 147 x 190 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

More typical for Ingres is his treatment of Roger (Ruggiero) Rescuing Angelica, painted in 1819, depicting this scene from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. This was purchased for King Louis XVIII and was installed in the Palace of Versailles the following year.



Barthélémy Jobert (2018) Delacroix, new and expanded edn, Princeton UP. ISBN 978 0 691 18236 0.
Patrick Noon and Christopher Riopelle (2015) Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art, National Gallery and Yale UP. ISBN 978 1 857 09575 3.
Lucy Norton (translator) (1995) The Journal of Eugène Delacroix, 3rd edn, Phaedon. ISBN 978 0 7148 3359 0.
Arlette Sérullaz (2004) Delacroix, Louvre Drawing Gallery, 5 Continents. ISBN 978 8 874 39105 9.
Beth S Wright (editor) (2001) The Cambridge Companion to Delacroix, Cambridge UP. ISBN 978 0 521 65077 1.