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Eugene Delacroix
(1798-1863)

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Eugène (Ferdinand Victor) Delacroix was born on April 26, 1798, at Charenton-Saint Maurice, and he studied under the French painter Pierre Guérin.

He was trained in the formal neoclassical style of the French painter Jacques-Louis David, but he was strongly influenced by the more colorful, opulent style of such earlier masters as the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens and the Italian painter Paolo Veronese. 

He also absorbed the spirit of his contemporary and countryman Théodore Géricault, whose early works exemplify the violent action, love of liberty, and budding romanticism of the turbulent post-Napoleonic period. 

  • An exquisite portrait of Delacroix, engraved by Pierre Albuisson (France). Scan © Pierre Albuisson. 
  • France 1951. Eugene Delacroix. Self-portrait. Semi-postal stamp issued for the benefit of French Red Cross. 

Pierre Albuisson's private engraving of Eugène Delacroix

France 1951. Romanticist Art. Delacroix. Self-portrait.

His artistic career began in 1822, when his first painting was accepted by the Paris Salon. On a trip to England in 1825, he studied the work of English painters. Delacroix remained the dominant French romantic painter throughout his life. A trip to North Africa in 1832 provided subjects for more than 100 sensuous canvases. In addition, he received many government commissions for murals and ceiling paintings. 
 
France 1963. Romanticist Art. Delacroix. Jacob's Fight with the Angel. Mali 1968. Romanticist Painting. Delacroix. Flower Painting. France 1998. Romanticist Painting. Delacroix. Crusaders entering Constantinople.

Delacroix's most overly Romantic and perhaps most influential work is Liberty Leading the People (1830, Louvre), a semi-allegorical glorification of the idea of liberty. This painting confirmed the clear division between the Romantic style of painting, which emphasized colour and spirit, and the concurrent Neo-Classical style (in the development of which Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres was a leading figure), which emphasized line and cool detachment. 

France 1999. Romanticist Painting. Delacroix. Liberty Leading the People. France 1982. Romanticist Painting. Delacroix. Fragment of Liberty Leading the People.

France 1995. Romanticist Art. Delacroix. National Assembly with fragment of the painting Liberty Leading the People.

Some visitors to this page have asked me why the artist has chosen to show Liberty revealing her breasts. It is a well-known artist's technique to show a rebel moving upstream, against the wind, towards the final power.  In the case of Liberty, this is shown by her half-torn clothing, indicating that she has been -- and still is -- struggling for the liberty of the people she leads, and that she is now on her way to power, which will finally cause the opposed government to fall, and institute a democratic regime [republic].  A true Romanticist artist vision :-)

Delacroix remained the dominant French Romantic painter throughout his life. A trip to North Africa in 1832 provided subjects for more than 100 sensuous canvases. In addition, he received many government commissions for murals and ceiling paintings, as well as he illustrated various works of William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, and Goethe. 
 
Many of his late works, especially animal pictures, hunt scenes, and marine subjects, are superb, but others exhibit a certain dryness of execution and lack of inspiration, such as this "Odalisque", executed in 1847.  It is a huge painting, 320 x 220 cm, and belongs to the Zambaccian Museum in Bucharest (Romania).

  • Romania 1971. Odalisque. 

Romania 1971. Romanticist Painting. Delacroix. Odalisque.

Nicaragua 1976. Romanticist Painting. Delacroix. Arabians Playing Chess.

Cuba 1982. Romanticist Painting. Delacroix. Tiger.

USSR 1972. Romanticist Painting. Delacroix. Moroccan Saddling Steed.
Delacroix's technique, in which he applied contrasting colours with small strokes of the brush, creating a particularly vibrant effect, was an important influence on the Impressionists. He is also well known for his Journals, which display considerable literary talent and express his wievs on art, politics, and life. Delacroix died in Paris on August 13, 1863.  

Eugene Delacroix has also appeared on French banknotes. 

France 1987. Bank note of 100 FF. With Delacroix's portrait. Front side.

Front

France 1987. Bank note of 100 FF, with Delacroix's portrait. Back side.

Back

An interesting interpretation of Delacroix's famous painting "Liberty Leading the People" is found in the Irish artist Robert Ballagh's lithographs. Robert Ballagh (*1943) is considered Ireland's most important modern painter. Mr. David Scott wrote in the Irish Stamp News, Summer 1991: 

Ballagh's stamps are perhaps most interesting and original when they pick up or adapt motifs or preoccupations of his work as an artist. The 1977 design commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Electricity Supply Board, based on a mural by Ballagh, may not be the best example of this, but the stamp celebrating the centenary of the birth of Padraig Pearse two years later (1979) merits detailed attention. 

Ballagh's concern in the late 1960s with political issues, in particular that of violence and terrorism -- in Northern Ireland and abroad -- was reflected in a remarkable series of paintings that reproduced in starkly simplified forms scenes of insurrection or violence from classic masterpieces of European painting: David's "The Rape of the Sabine Women", Goya's "Third of May", Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People".  

These works reappeared as a series of lithographs in the early 1970's. 

  • The original lithograph that was transformed into the Pearse-commemorative below. 

Delacroix. Ballagh's original lithograph of the Delacroix-painting Liberty Leading the People.

Delacroix. Ireland 1979. Robert Ballagh: Patrick Pearse [Padraig Mac Piarais] Leading the People.

One of them, based on Delacroix's "Liberty" became the basis of Ballagh's Pearse-commemorative of 1979. 

In this striking design, the Parisian barricade has been replaced by the GPO, O'Connell Street, the headquarters of the 1916 rebellion, the self-portrait of Delacroix being substituted by the profile of Padraig Pearse. 

  • Eire 1979.  Robert Ballagh: "Patrick Pearse [Pádraig Mac Piarais] Leading the People", commemorating Pearse's birth anniversary. Scott # 460. 

Most significantly, Ballagh has substituted the Irish for the French tricolour, thus in effect inscribing the Irish aspiration to nationhood into a long European tradition. 

Sources: 

Acknowledgements:
Many thanks to Mr. Yves Arvis (France),  Mr. Didier Cuidet (France),  Mr. Dominique Stéphan (France), Mr. Daniel Mourrain (France), and Rodney Cork (Australia) for all help and research. Banknote images by courtesy of Ron Wise (USA).  

More romanticist artists on this site: 

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