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The Shipwreck of Don Juan
Photo credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Shipwreck of Don Juan c.1840

Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863)

Paintings Collection

(Born Charenton-St-Maurice, nr. Paris, 26 April 1798; died Paris, 13 August 1863). French painter, draughtsman and lithographer. He was one of the towering figures of the Romantic movement and one of the last major artists to devote a large part of his career to mural painting in the heroic tradition. Lorenz Eitner (An Outline of 19th Century European Painting, 1987) describes him as ‘the last great European painter to use the repertory of humanistic art with conviction and originality. In his hands, antique myth and medieval history, Golgotha and the Barricade, Faust and Hamlet, Scott and Byron, tiger and Odalisque yielded images of equal power.’ He was the son of a diplomat, Charles Delacroix, who at the time of his son's birth was ambassador in The Hague, but it has been suggested that his natural father was the great statesman Talleyrand, a friend of the family. His mother, Victoire Oeben, was the daughter of Jean-François Oeben, one of the most distinguished furniture makers of his day. Delacroix had a good education and grew up with a love of literature and music as well as art. In 1815 he began studying with Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, who had earlier taught Géricault (whose work greatly influenced Delacroix), and the following year he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts. His real artistic education, however, was gained by copying Old Masters in the Louvre, where he delighted particularly in Rubens and the 16th-century Venetian painters. Throughout his life he remained a keen and perceptive student of his predecessors, and Rubens—with his richness of imagination, warmth of colour, and enormous energy—was a constant source of inspiration. In 1822 his career was brilliantly launched when his first submission to the Salon, the Barque of Dante (Louvre, Paris), a melodramatic scene from Dante's Inferno, was the talking point of the exhibition and was bought by the state. Two years later he had another success at the Salon with the Massacre at Chios (Louvre), inspired by a recent Turkish atrocity in the Greek War of Independence. It aroused much hostile criticism (Gros, who had admired the Barque of Dante, called it ‘the massacre of painting’), but it was awarded a gold medal and once again was bought by the state (with Talleyrand perhaps pulling strings in the background).

Text source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)


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