"Color always occupies me but drawing preoccupies me." - Eugene Delacroix
You can see both impulses at work in Fleurs de laurier-rose (oleanders to English speakers), delicate gradations of red peppered with white slivers and ethereal shadows of green and an ingeniously structured plant on paper that looks completely natural, artless.
Much like other artists, Delacroix wondered how posterity would regard his work. On the evidence of two exhibitions devoted to his drawings in 2018 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a first-ever New York gallery show, posterity is still getting to know the Frenchman and is awestruck by the revelations. It is possible that The Triumph of Genius Over Envy was a hint from the artist himself as to how he hoped to be remembered.
During his lifetime (1798-1863), Delacroix was feted as a master of painting but he chose to keep his drawings to himself. Imagine the with what surprise his executors greeted the discovery of some 6,00 drawings in his Parisian atelier. To their credit they immediately recognized a master draftsman at work. Of interest is that Delacroix accomplished all this with modest materials - chalk, charcoal, crayon, graphite, pastels, watercolors - materials that were considered capable only of producing inferior works.
His attraction to romantic and even sensational subjects is reflected in his comment that an artist is someone who is able to draw a man falling from a window before he hits the ground. This sounds like what the French term a croquis succinct, a quick sketch. Delacroix shows how it is done by catching a tiger at the moment it is posed to pounce on something (one hopes not someone) outside the frame, a choice that intensifies the impression of force. This is the same Delacroix who claimed "I am a pure Classicist."
Delacroix had a conventional education for an artist of his time, absorbing classical academic principles and making sketches from works by the old masters at the Louvre. It was at this time that he began to carry a sketchbook with him everywhere, trying out ideas that he might use in his paintings. Sunset is believed to be a study for the restoration of the ceiling of the Apollo Gallery at the Louvre in the years 1848-1851. Delacroix contributed a tableau of the race of Apollo to the project. You could easily imagine those radiating pink rays as the hand print of a god.
Delacroix recognized that, thanks to new technologies, reproductions of his drawings were a way to promote his work to a new and larger audience. With increasing difficulty he carried on working in his last decades, hobbled by a frail constitution. In 1853 he wrote in his journal, "Happiness always comes too late. It is like the little vogue for my pictures; after despising me for so long, the patrons are going to make my fortune." - quoted in Rise of the Modern Art Market, Pamela Fletcher & Anne Helmreich, eds.
1. Eugene Delacroix - Fleurs de laurier-rose (Oleander), no date given, watercolor, Musee Bonnat-Helleu, Bayonne.
2, Eugene Delacroix - The Triumph of Genius Over Envy, circa 1849-51, pen and ink, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
3. Eugene Delacroix - Crouching Tiger, 1839, pen, brush, ink, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
4. Eugene Delacroix - Sunset, 1850, pastel on paper, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.