Eugène Delacroix was one of the giants of French painting, but his last full retrospective exhibition in Paris dates back to 1963, the centenary year of his death. In collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre
is holding a historic exhibition featuring some 180 worksmostly paintingsas a tribute to his entire career. From the young artists big hits at the Salons of the 1820s to his final, lesser-known, and mysterious religious paintings and landscapes, the exhibition will showcase the tension that characterizes the art of Delacroix, who strove for individuality while aspiring to follow in the footsteps of the Flemish and Venetian masters of the 16th and 17th centuries. It will aim to answer the questions raised by Delacroixs long, prolific, and multifaceted career while introducing visitors to an engaging character: a virtuoso writer, painter, and illustrator who was curious, critical, and cultivated, infatuated with fame and devoted to his work. The exhibition will bring together masterpieces by Delacroix from museums in France (Lille, Bordeaux, Nancy, Montpellier, etc.) and exceptional international loans, particularly from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Belgium, and Hungary.
Much remains to be learnt about Delacroixs career. It spanned a little over forty years, from 1821 to 1863, but most of his best known paintings were produced during the first decade. The output from the next three quarters of his career is difficult to define, as it cannot be confined to a single artistic movement. Although Delacroix is often hailed as a forerunner of modern colorists, his career does not always fit a formalist interpretation of 19th-century art.
The exhibition is organized in three sections, presenting the three major periods in Delacroixs long career and highlighting the motivations that may have inspired and guided his painting. The first section focusing on the conquest and triumph of the first decade studies the artists break with neoclassicism and his renewed interest in the expressive and narrative possibilities of paint. The second part explores the ways in which his large public murals (his main activity from 1835 to 1855) impacted on his easel painting, with its visible tension between the monumental and the decorative. Finally, the third section shows how his later years were seemingly dominated by a keen interest in landscape painting, tempered by an attempt to extract the essence from his visual memories.
These keys to interpretation allow for a new classification that goes beyond a mere grouping by genre and transcends the classicalRomantic divide, indicating instead that Delacroixs painting resonated with the great artistic movements of his day: Romanticism of course, but also Realism, eclecticism, and various forms of Historicism.
Paintings by Delacroix on display in the museum’s galleries
Because of their size, the two largest paintings by Delacroix in the Louvre’s collection—The Death of Sardanapalus and The Capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders—cannot be moved to the Hall Napoléon. They will therefore remain in the Salle Mollien (Denon wing, Level 1), where they are on permanent display.
From March 21 and for the duration of the exhibition, they will be joined by Christ in the Garden of Olives, an exceptional loan from the City of Paris. This recently conserved painting is usually in the transept of the church of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. This is a unique opportunity for museum visitors to see the first religious painting commissioned from the young Delacroix in 1824 on display next to The Death of Sardanapalus—two works that were both exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1827–1828. The Louvre also boasts one of Delacroix’s finest decorative works, Apollo Victorious over Python, painted in the central panel of the ceiling in the Galerie d’Apollon (Denon wing, Level 1), designed in the 1660s by Charles Le Brun.
The Louvre holds the world’s largest collection of paintings by Delacroix. Although most of them will be on display in the retrospective exhibition in the Hall Napoléon, some will remain in the permanent collections on Level 2 of the Sully wing, notably the Battle of Poitiers, the Portrait of Frédéric Chopin, and one of the later versions of Medea about to Murder Her Children (known as Furious Medea).
Exhibition curators: Sébastien Allard, Director of the Department of Paintings, Musée du Louvre; Côme Fabre, Department of Paintings, Musée du Louvre; Asher Miller, Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.