Today is the birthday (1798) of Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix, a French Romantic artist regarded from the outset of his career as the leader of the French Romantic school. Delacroix was born in Charenton-Saint-Maurice, now a suburb of Paris, southeast of the center. His mother, Victoire, was the daughter of the cabinet-maker Jean-François Oeben. He had three much older siblings. Charles-Henri Delacroix (1779–1845) rose to the rank of General in the Napoleonic army. Henriette (1780–1827) married the diplomat Raymond de Verninac Saint-Maur (1762–1822). Henri was born six years later. He was killed at the Battle of Friedland in 1807. There is reason to believe that Eugène’s father, Charles-François Delacroix, was infertile at the time of Eugène’s conception and that his biological father was Talleyrand, who was a friend of the family and successor of Charles Delacroix as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and whom the adult Eugène resembled in appearance. Throughout his career as a painter, Delacroix was cared for (one way or another) by Talleyrand, who served successively the Restoration and king Louis-Philippe, and ultimately as ambassador of France in Great Britain, and later by Talleyrand’s grandson, Charles Auguste Louis Joseph, duc de Morny, half-brother of Napoleon III and speaker of the French House of Commons. His legal father, Charles Delacroix, died in 1805, and his mother died in 1814, leaving Delacroix an orphan at 16.
Delacroix’s early education was at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, and at the Lycée Pierre Corneille in Rouen where he received classical training and won awards for drawing. In 1815 he began his art training with Pierre-Narcisse Guérin in the neoclassical style of Jacques-Louis David. An early church commission, The Virgin of the Harvest (1819), displays the influence of Raphael, but a like commission, The Virgin of the Sacred Heart (1821), shows a freer interpretation. It precedes the influence of the more colorful and open style of Rubens, and Théodore Géricault. The impact of Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa was profound, and stimulated Delacroix to produce his first major painting, The Barque of Dante, which was accepted by the Paris Salon in 1822.
The work caused a sensation, and was largely derided by the public and officialdom, yet was purchased by the State for the Luxembourg Galleries.Two years later he again achieved popular success for his The Massacre at Chios.
Delacroix’s painting of the massacre at Chios shows sick, dying Greek civilians about to be slaughtered by the Turks. One of several paintings he made of this contemporary event, it expresses sympathy for the Greek cause in their war of independence against the Turks, a popular sentiment at the time for the French people. Delacroix was quickly recognized as a leading painter in the new Romantic style, and the picture was bought by the state. His depiction of suffering was controversial, however, as there was no glorious event taking place, no patriots raising their swords in valor as in David’s Oath of the Horatii, only a disaster. Many critics deplored the painting’s despairing tone; the artist Antoine-Jean Gros called it “a massacre of art”. The pathos in the depiction of an infant clutching its dead mother’s breast had an especially powerful effect, although this detail was condemned as unfit for art by Delacroix’s critics.
Delacroix produced a second painting in support of the Greeks in their war for independence, this time referring to the capture of Missolonghi by Turkish forces in 1825. With a restraint of palette appropriate to the allegory, Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi displays a woman in Greek costume with her breast bared, arms half-raised in an imploring gesture before the horrible scene: the suicide of the Greeks, who chose to kill themselves and destroy their city rather than surrender to the Turks.
A trip to England in 1825 included visits to Thomas Lawrence and Richard Parkes Bonington, and the color and handling of English painting provided impetus for his only full-length portrait, the elegant Portrait of Louis-Auguste Schwiter (1826–30). At roughly the same time, Delacroix was creating romantic works of numerous themes, many of which would continue to interest him for over 30 years.
By 1825, he was producing lithographs illustrating Shakespeare, and soon thereafter lithographs and paintings from Goethe’s Faust. Paintings such as The Combat of the Giaour and Hassan (1826), and Woman with Parrot (1827), introduced subjects of violence and sensuality which became recurrent in his oeuvre.
These various romantic strands came together in the Death of Sardanapalus (1827–28). Delacroix’s painting of the death of the Assyrian king shows an emotionally stirring scene alive with beautiful colors, exotic costumes and tragic events. It depicts the besieged king watching impassively as guards carry out his orders to kill his servants, concubines and animals. The literary source is a play by Byron, although the play does not specifically mention any massacre of concubines.
Delacroix’s most influential work came in 1830 with the painting Liberty Leading the People, which for choice of subject and technique highlights the differences between the Romantic approach and the neoclassical style. Liberty Although Delacroix was inspired by contemporary events to invoke this romantic image of the spirit of liberty, he seems to be trying to convey the will and character of the people, rather than glorifying the actual event, the 1830 revolution against Charles X, which did little other than bring a different king, Louis-Philippe, to power. Although the French government bought the painting, officials deemed its glorification of liberty too inflammatory and removed it from public view. Nonetheless, Delacroix still received many government commissions for murals and ceiling paintings. Following the Revolution of 1848 that saw the end of the reign of Louis Philippe, Liberty Leading the People, was finally put on display by the newly elected President, Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) and is now on exhibit in the Louvre. The boy holding a gun up on the right is sometimes thought to be an inspiration of the Gavroche character in Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, Les Misérables.
In 1832, Delacroix traveled to Spain and North Africa, as part of a diplomatic mission to Morocco shortly after the French conquered Algeria. He went not primarily to study art, but in hopes of seeing a more primitive culture than Paris offered. He eventually produced over 100 paintings and drawings of scenes from or based on the life of the people of North Africa, and added a new and personal chapter to the European interest in Orientalism. Delacroix was entranced by the people and the costumes, and the trip influenced the subject matter of a great many of his future paintings. He believed that the North Africans, in their attire and their attitudes, provided a visual equivalent to the people of Classical Rome and Greece:
The Greeks and Romans are here at my door, in the Arabs who wrap themselves in a white blanket and look like Cato or Brutus.
He managed to sketch some women secretly in Algiers, as in the painting Women of Algiers in their Apartment (1834), but generally he encountered difficulty in finding Muslim women to pose for him because of Muslim rules requiring that women be covered. Less problematic was the painting of Jewish women in North Africa, as subjects for the Jewish Wedding in Morocco (1837–41).
In 1838 Delacroix exhibited Medea about to Kill Her Children, which created a sensation at the Salon. The painting depicts Medea clutching her children, dagger drawn to slay them in vengeance for her abandonment by Jason.
From 1833 Delacroix received numerous commissions to decorate public buildings in Paris. In that year he began work for the Salon du Roi in the Chambre des Députés, Palais Bourbon, which was not completed until 1837, and began a lifelong friendship with the female artist Marie-Élisabeth Blavot-Boulanger. For the next ten years he painted in both the Library at the Palais Bourbon and the Library at the Palais du Luxembourg. In 1843 he decorated the Church of St. Denis du Saint Sacrement with a large Pietà, and from 1848 to 1850 he painted the ceiling in the Galerie d’Apollon of the Louvre. From 1857 to 1861 he worked on frescoes for the Chapelle des Anges at the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris. The work was fatiguing, and during these years he suffered from an increasingly fragile constitution. In addition to his home in Paris, from 1844 he also lived at a small cottage in Champrosay, where he found respite in the countryside. From 1834 until his death, he was faithfully cared for by his housekeeper, Jeanne-Marie le Guillou, who zealously guarded his privacy, and whose devotion prolonged his life and his ability to continue working in his later years.
The winter of 1862-63 was challenging for Delacroix. He was suffering from a bad throat infection which seemed to get worse during the winter. On June 16th 1863, he was getting better and returned to his house in the country. On July 15th he was so sick he went back to see his doctor who realized he could not do anything more for him, by then, the only food he could eat was fruit. Eugene realized his condition and wrote his Will, for all his friends he left a memento. For his trusted housekeeper, Jenny Le Guillou, he left enough for her to live on and ordered everything in his studio to be sold. He also inserted a clause forbidding any representation of his features “whether by a death-mask or by drawing or by photography. I forbid it expressly.” On August 13th Delacroix died, with Jenny by his side. He was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery.
This still life attributed to Delacroix appears to be an odd conflation of images: English huntsmen on horseback in the background, and lobsters plus assorted game in the foreground. But it reminds me of this quote of his:
In the midst of the activities that distract me, such as shooting partridges in the woods, when I remember a few lines of poetry, when I recall some sublime painting, my spirit is roused to indignation and spurns the vain sustenance of the common herd.
Not much to go on, to be sure, but it’s a start. Escoffier has this section on partridges, which is fairly typical for 19th century Parisian cuisine:
Wrap each partridge in a buttered vine leaf then in a thin slice of salt pork fat and roast in a hot oven for 20 minutes or on a spit for 25 minutes.
Place on a Crouton of bread fried in butter and coated with Gratin Forcemeat “C” (# 295), and garnish with half a lemon and a bouquet of watercress.
3950 Perdreau Truffé—Truffled Partridge
Stuff the bird in the same way as for Dindonneau Truffé (# 3914) allowing 100 g (31 oz) fresh pork fat and 80 g (2 oz) truffles; cover with thin slices of salt pork fat and roast in a moderate oven for 25 minutes.
Partridges are rather small, so you need to allow one per diner. They are not very fatty either, so wrapping the breasts in some kind of ham or bacon before roasting is generally recommended by chefs. The flesh of the partridge is not strong, so adding too much to a dish of partridge will mask the subtle flavor. Escoffier’s second recipe here seems close to ideal (although I am not generally well off enough to afford truffles). The pork fat does not flavor the partridge unduly, but allows the bird to remain moist when roasting – as does roasting at a very high temperature as briefly as possible. For all game birds I find simplicity is best. If you want to be extravagant with your flavorings and whatnot, stuff and roast a chicken. If you want a gravy for partridge, make a roux of the pan juices and flour, and then add some chicken stock with, maybe, a little fresh parsley. Simple.