Sunday 10 April 2016

Eugene Delacroix: The Romantic

Born on 28 April 1798, at Charenton Sainte-Marie near Paris, Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix was the son of the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the post-revolutionary Directory, or was he? It has long been rumoured that he was the illegitimate issue of his father’s successor the great French Statesman and political chameleon, Prince Maurice de Talleyrand.

There was certainly a physical resemblance and he inherited a number of other characteristics such as an inestimable charm and the ability to sway with any prevailing wind.

Never wanting for money his childhood ambition to become an artist was never in doubt and he studied in Paris under the much respected painter Pierre-Narcisse Guerin but in a neo-classical style which despite teaching him the rudiments of his profession, the methodology and technique required of the artist, he would find stifling and later for the most part abandon.

Delacroix was a romantic by temperament and by choice being a great admirer of the English poet Lord Byron and the artist JMW Turner whose swirl of activity and motion he would seek to replicate in his own painting.

Never as popular as his great rival Jean-Auguste Ingres who remained firmly in the neo-classical style he believed that the canvass could be every bit as emotional as the written word and that art could convey as much feeling as the greatest of the bards.

In 1832, he travelled to North Africa, an exotic place far removed from the well-ordered salons of Paris- here were the Romans and Greeks of the modern age – he was excited and enthralled.
It soon entered his blood and was to consume much of his work for the rest of his life.

Delacroix is most famous now for his painting ‘Liberty Leading the People’ which is often wrongly thought to depict the French Revolution of 1789. It does indeed refer to revolution but that of 1830 in Paris which deposed the last Bourbon Monarch Charles X.

The painting was purchased by the Government of the Orleanist King Louis Philippe who believing its message incendiary removed it from public view and it wasn’t seen again for 20 years until the establishment of the Second Republic.

Painting the epic he captured the sense not the detail, his portraits were never intended to be the replication of its subject wanting instead to convey the character that lay beneath the facade of the physical being.

It was a style that had a profound effect on the Impressionist artist that would follow him.
As Baudelaire wrote - Delacroix was passionately in love with passion.

Never as popular as Ingres despite from time-to-time returning to the neo-classical style he was perhaps more influential.

Eugene Delacroix died in Paris on 13 August 1863, aged 65, and is buried along with his great rival Ingres in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Jean_Auguste Ingres: The Classicist

Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres was born in Montauban in southern France on 29 August 1780, one of five surviving children whose father Joseph, also an artist, was eager for his son to follow in his footsteps.

By the age of 12, he had been enrolled at art school in Toulouse and before he even reached full manhood had already won awards for his work, he would always be keen on winning prizes.

Although, he was raised during a period of great political convulsion and social upheaval the events of the time and his experience of them were rarely reflected in his art. Yet he was soon being spoken of as the heir to Jacques-Louis David, who though still admired had long since been politically ostracised and sent into exile, and Ingres agreed coming to see himself as the defender of the neo-classical (exemplified in the mind of many by David’s Oath of the Haratii) against the rise of romanticism in the arts represented by his great rival Eugene Delacroix.

Indeed, he was considered so orthodox by some in the artistic and literary salons of Paris and elsewhere that he was accused of merely reinterpreting the great art of the past with nothing original to say, an accusation little short of plagiarism.

It was in 1805, after he had moved to the Villa Medici in Rome where he had a studio that he first became aware of the criticisms that were circulating back in Franc and angrily remarked:

“The scoundrels, they waited until I was away before they assassinated my reputation.”

Yet, though he remained largely uncontroversial in choice of subject matter the techniques he adopted and the style that resulted are now seen as essential precursors in the development of modern art,

 particularly in the portraiture for which he is best remembered now.

It wasn’t seen like that at the time and it remains uncertain whether Ingres would have appreciated the legacy.

Yet unlike his rival Delacroix, who was always more beloved of the artistic establishment than he was the people, Ingres popularity rarely waned despite becoming a little too closely associated with the Orleanist regime of Louis-Philippe which was overthrown in 1848.

Ingres died of pneumonia on 14 January 1867, after a long life and career aged 86, more admired than he had been and no less popular.

He was interred in Pere Lachaise Cemetery.