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The most complete show devoted to Eugène Delacroix opens at CaixaForum Madrid
General view of the largest retrospective of French artist Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) organized in the last 50 years, that was presented at CaixaForum facilities in Madrid, Spain, 18 October 2011. The exhibition, that gathers around 130 pieces from public and private collections in Europe and the US, runs until 15 January 2012. EPA/SERGIO BARRENECHEA.

MADRID.- Ignacio González, Vice-president, Minister for Culture and Sport and Spokesperson, Regional Government of Madrid; Bruno Delaye, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the French Republic; Henri Loyrette, director and president of the Louvre Museum and Jaume Lanaspa, General Manager of ”la Caixa” Foundation; this afternoon officially opened the exhibition Delacroix (1798-1863), the most complete show devoted to one of the most outstanding names in the history of universal art and the leading exponent of French Romantic painting to be assembled in the last nearly 50 years.

The exhibition represents the culmination of the cooperation agreement between ”la Caixa” Welfare Projects and the Louvre Museum, signed in 2009. The purpose of this agreement, which further intensified the long-standing understanding between the two institutions, is to enable the joint organisation of different exhibition projects at the cultural centres managed by ”la Caixa” Welfare Projects and to secure loans of works from the Louvre Museum and the curatorial services of experts working at the French museum.

This agreement has already come to fruition with the presentation at the various CaixaForum centres of such diverse major exhibitions as: Roads of Arabia. Archaeological Treasures from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Etruscan Princes. Between East and West; and Another Egypt. Coptic Collections from the Louvre Museum.

The agreement with the Louvre is amongst the results generated by the policy launched by ”la Caixa” Welfare Projects to establish strategic alliances with leading cultural centres, such as the French museum itself, the Prado, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona.

Following its presentation in CaixaForum Madrid, the show will travel to Barcelona, where it will open to the public in February next year. Its opening will mark the beginning of celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of the cultural and social centre managed by ”la Caixa” Welfare Projects in Barcelona.

Moreover, the show will stand side-by-side in the Catalan capital with a second major exhibition, this one devoted to Francisco de Goya and based on works from the Prado in Madrid. This coincidence will help to suggest links between the two artists, both, undeniably, precursors of modernity whose respective careers also shared various points in common.

Indeed, one of the objectives set out by ”la Caixa” Welfare Projects in organising this exhibition is to make new audiences more aware of the French painter’s relations with Spain. During his journey to Morocco in 1832, Eugène Delacroix stopped off in several Spanish cities, including Algeciras, Cadiz and Seville. "All Goya breathes around me", wrote his friend Pierret, expressing precocious interest in art from the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, Delacroix was one of the first in France to become familiar with Goya’s Caprichos.

The purpose behind the exhibition that ”la Caixa” Welfare Projects now presents is, then, to throw light on these links, which are little known in general. This is a paradoxical situation if we remember the powerful influence that Goya exercised over Delacroix’s art or the French artist’s impact on the great 20thcentury Spanish master, Pablo Picasso, who paid tribute to him in a series inspired by Women of Algiers in their Apartment.

This show, in which CaixaForum Madrid pays homage to a truly great French artist, is the most complete organised since the major exhibition staged in Paris to mark the centenary of Delacroix’s death in 1963.

A major retrospective, the show seeks to provide an overview of Delacroix’s work and his artistic development. In pursuing this goal, it focuses on the different stages in the French painter’s career, from his early works, when he found his inspiration in the museum, to his mature years, when he revisited his earlier themes from a new perspective, with particular emphasis on his paintings of historical and oriental inspiration.

Delacroix (1798-1863) brings together more than 130 works that illustrate the many facets in the work of this genius. As a result, visitors to CaixaForum Madrid will be able to see some of his best-known oils, such as Greece Dying on the Ruins of Missolonghi, as well as a sketch for the Death of Sardanapalus and Women of Algiers in their Apartment, exceptionally loaned for this show. This last work will, moreover, provide the centrepiece for one of the highlights of the show, a section featuring all the great paintings of oriental inspiration that the French master produced on his return from his journey to North Africa.

These renowned paintings are also accompanied by less well-known pieces, with particular emphasis on the graphic work, including both drawings and etchings (which also owe a major debt to Goya).

Besides the works from the Louvre Museum, the exhibition also includes many pieces loaned for the occasion by public institutions around the world: the Uffizi (Florence); The National Gallery (London); The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York); the Musée d’Orsay (Paris); The Art Institute of Chicago; The British Museum (London); and the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Bordeaux); and from private collections.

Visual pleasure and intellectual rigour are the criteria that have guided the selection of the works included in the exhibition, which is aimed at suggesting a new interpretation of Delacroix’s “Romanticism”. Following the publication of a new edition of the artist’s Journal in 2009, this retrospective outlines a new vision of his work, based on the latest discoveries and scientific publications.

Delacroix (1798-1863) shows how Delacroix explored the question of theme and the necessity for a subject, and his idea of composition based on production of the work. It also illustrates the master’s in-depth familiarity with the painterly traditions through his treatment of official commissions and heroic historical and religious themes as well as showing how, in the mid-19th century, he began to reinvent this tradition, reworking it in the light of the burgeoning realist revolution.

The show also focuses on less well-known aspects of Delacroix’s oeuvre. These include, for example, the portrait: the great Portrait of Louis-Auguste Schwiter, which captivated Degas so much that he bought the work, exemplifies the master’s genius in this genre.

His self-portraits also provide interesting material for analysis, partly because Delacroix produced only three painted entirely by his own hand. All three are featured in this exhibition: the famous Self-Portrait with Green Jacket and the Self-Portrait as Ravenswood, both from the Louvre; and the Self-Portrait, c. 1842, from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Delacroix and the model
In Delacroix’s time, the nude was the cornerstone of artistic apprenticeship. Rubens’ Marie de’ Medici, in the Louvre, provided the young painter with a model to emulate. This room contains several studies that show Delacroix’s originality, as he reveals his fascination with the light and colour of the female body, rather than concentrating on anatomical precision.

The three versions of the portrait of Aspasie embody an extraordinary investigation of colour. The challenge here is to reproduce the light and texture of the mulatto woman’s velvet skin. To achieve this, Delacroix marks certain parts of the body, such as the armpits and the backs of the hands, usually ignored in academic nudes, with a darker brown. Moreover, he accentuates the contrast between his model’s brown skin and bright red lips.

By comparing the three portraits, we can note that the face and body interact with the colourful background, which changes from red in the oldest version to green in the most modern.

The Faust illustrations
For Delacroix, literature was a powerful source of inspiration. One of his outstanding works as a lithographer are the seventeen plates he produced to illustrate Goethe’s Faust (1828), and which embody a highly personal reading of the work.

In these lithographs, Delacroix gets away from the original text, leaves to one side Faust’s love for Marguerite and focuses on the relationship between Faust his evil counterpart, Mephistopheles. Over the course of the series, Faust’s image comes more and more to resemble that of his diabolic mentor, to the point where, in the scene in which the doctor seduces Marguerite, it is virtually impossible to distinguish one from the other.

Goethe saw Delacroix’s lithographs and enthused over the French artist’s novel interpretation: “M. Delacroix… is a man of great talent who found in ‘Faust’ his proper aliment… And if I must confess that M. Delacroix has, in some scenes, surpassed my own notions, how much more will the reader find all in full life, and surpassing his imagination”, the German author declared to his friend Eckermann in the famous Conversations.

The portrait and the British influence
Delacroix’s work between 1820 and 1830 is greatly influenced by English painting, particularly after his visit to London in 1825 and his meeting with the painter Sir Thomas Lawrence.

The French artist interprets the British portrait according to his own artistic personality. His most outstanding work from this period is the portrait of Louis-Auguste (later Baron) Schwiter (1826). As in many English portraits from the time, the painting seeks to capture Schwiter’s character as he poses, standing, in a park. However, rather than reproducing a falsely relaxed attitude, Delacroix chooses to accentuate more formal aspects and through the baron’s clothing, emphasises his aristocratic bearing.

The Romantic taste for disguise is seen, particularly, in the portrait of the baritone Barroilhet dressed as a Turk, and in the self-portrait as Edgar Ravenswood, the central character in Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor (1819). Accounts from the time testify to the fact that Delacroix attended masked balls dressed as Dante.

Literary inspiration
Delacroix’s imagination needed stimulus. “What I need, then, in finding a subject, is to open a book that can inspire me and let its mood guide me”, he wrote in his Journal In the 1820s, he found such stimulus in literature. But it was not enough to merely illustrate a narrative: true artists transmit the emotions that reading it creates in them. Later, merely seeing the colours on his palette would suffice.

Delacroix burst into the Salons of that decade with works in daring styles that revolutionised the painting of history. Whilst exalting the raw material of painting, he also renewed his subjects through his reading of ancient and modern literature, taking his inspiration, not only from Dante, Cervantes and Milton, but also from the fashionable novels of the time, by such authors as Chateaubriand and Walter Scott.

Lord Byron became something of an advisor to the artist, suggesting such exotic themes as Sardanapalus and The Combat of the Giaour and Hassan, as well as informing Delacroix’s vision of contemporary history. Swayed by the English poet’s arguments, he favoured Greek independence in that country’s struggle against the Ottoman Empire. Two of Delacroix’s greatest works, The Massacre at Chios (1824) and Greece Dying on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1826), are allegories inspired by contemporary conflict.

The drama of Greece
“Who now shall lead they scattered children forth, And long accustomed bondage uncreate?” wrote Lord Byron in his narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1818), after his first journey to Greece in 1810. Byron’s ideas made a great impression on Delacroix, who devoted several works to the Greek War of Independence. This room contains a watercolour and a study for The Massacre at Chios (1824), which alludes to the 20,000 Greeks killed at Chios and the suffering of the women and children who survived.

In 1826, Delacroix painted Greece Dying on the Ruins of Missolonghi. This masterpiece, produced for a major exhibition in support of the Greek revolutionaries, depicts the heroic resistance of the people of Missolonghi. The work also pays homage to Byron, who died in that city in 1824.

The pain of Greece is represented by the figure of a despairing woman who accepts her own sacrifice. The female image here is reminiscent of the style of the Renaissance Pietà, whilst the hand that reaches from the rubble brings to mind Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa.

Memories of the journey to Morocco
In 1832, Delacroix accompanied the Count of Mornay on a French diplomatic mission to North Africa, there to visit Abd ar-Rahman, Sultan of Morocco. On the journey, they stopped off in several Spanish cities, including Cadiz, Seville and Algeciras.

Delacroix made many life studies in his travel notebook, perfecting his mastery of watercolour technique. This North African journey provided the artist with an inexhaustible repertoire of subjects, themes and motifs, and he proceeded to work on these until the end of his days. Many of the smaller pieces, such as A Street in Meknes, are imbued with extraordinary freshness and spontaneity.

From 1832, Delacroix’s inspiration was further renewed by his selection of subject matter and treatment of colour, which became the main protagonist of his painting. Between 1834 and 1841 he showed four outstanding works at the Salons, all brought together in this room: Women of Algiers in their Apartment, The Kaid, Moroccan Chieftain, The Fanatics of Tangiers and Jewish Wedding in Morocco.

Large decorative works
During the mid-1830s, his activity greatly increased as the State commissioned Delacroix to produce large decorative works for public buildings: the Salon of the King and the library of the Bourbon Palace, which now houses the French National Assembly, and the library of the Chamber of Peers.

In 1849, he decorated the main ceiling in the Salon d’Apollon in the Louvre. A sketch for this work, which completed that commenced nearly two centuries previously by Charles LeBrun, Louis XIV’s premier peintre, and marked the high point of Delacroix’s career as a decorative painter, is included in this exhibition.

Medea and St. Sebastian
In the late-1830s, Delacroix returned to classicism and painted large oils devoted to mythological and religious themes. He produced several versions of Medea, in which Jason’s wife is depicted with a savage gesture, dagger in hand, just before she kills her children, and of St. Sebastian, in which the martyr lies extenuated as St. Irene removes the arrows from his body. Both series of works show the influence of such masters as Andrea del Sarto, Rubens and Van Dyck.

During the early-1840s, Delacroix worked in all genres, from ancient history to contemporary themes, the portrait, and decorative and religious painting, constantly renewing his sources of inspiration.

The solitude of Christ
Religious feeling does not play an important role in Delacroix’s work – as his critics at the time were quick to point out – yet Christ is a frequent subject in his painting.

In the image of Christ crucified, Delacroix saw the individual pitted against fate and death. His Crucifixions highlight the solitude of Christ, and he interprets the Passion as a human drama full of doubt, suffering and resignation.

In his different versions of Christ Tied to the Column, Delacroix eliminates narrative and expressionist elements to invite the viewer to meditate on Man’s suffering. In his versions of the Pietà, moreover, he focuses on the suffering of the mother who, arms open, repeats the Son’s ordeal.

Series and variations
In 1847, Delacroix returned to his Journal, which he had abandoned since 1824. Whilst working on various decorative painting projects, he reflected in it on his work, reviving literary subjects from which he had taken inspiration twenty years earlier.

Now, though, he is more critical of Byron, though the English poet inspired him to paint The Shipwreck of Don Juan and The Bride of Abydos. He produced a series of works devoted to The Rape of Rebecca, which took its inspiration from Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, as well as drawings, paintings and etchings inspired by Shakespearian themes: Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard.

The subject of abduction also appears in African Pirates Abducting a Young Woman, whilst furious, violent heroines inspire two versions of The Bride of Abydos and Desdemona Cursed by Her Father. Themes and motifs are echoed from one work to another, giving unity to the prolific output of this period.

The Lion Hunt: the power of the sketch
The Universal Exposition in Paris in 1855 saw Delacroix elevated to the heights, as he presented a retrospective comprising thirty-five works at the world’s fair. Particularly outstanding was a large painting, The Lion Hunt, in which he revisited his studies of painting animals. The oil takes its inspiration from Rubens, for Delacroix wished to present himself to the world as the successor to the Flemish painter.

This room features an extraordinary preliminary study for The Lion Hunt, one of Delacroix’s finest. At the age of fifty-six, Delacroix had grown interested in the unfinished and the capacity to conserve the fresh quality of the sketch on the canvas. In this masterpiece, the whirling lines and powerful colour transmit the violence of the combat between man and beast.

Here, then, anticipating pictorial modernity, Delacroix emphasises expressive force rather than formal perfection.

Landscape: between the material and the spirit
The temptation of pure painting is always present in Delacroix’s work. How can such material art reach the spectator’s soul and transmit such deep feelings? In his writings, Delacroix speaks of the “magical accord” that enables painting to captivate the spectator.

After 1850, landscapes and atmospheric studies began to take on growing importance, as if the artist felt the need to understand and explain such phenomena. Delacroix spent time in Dieppe, Normandy, where contact with the seascape evoked new feelings in him. These emotions he transmitted to his canvas through coloured shades and reflections that anticipate the Impressionists’ quest for light.

In his historical compositions, his characters merge naturally with the landscape, as we can see, for instance, in Ovid among the Scythians, a painting shown at the Salon in 1859. The exiled poet takes refuge far from everything, amongst savages. The vastness of the landscape and the distance from us of the figures places us between two worlds, like Delacroix himself, who was approaching the end of his days. “It is the infinite in the finite. It is the dream!” wrote Baudelaire enthusiastically about this painting.

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