announced the top lot of the Old Master and 19th Century Drawings auction (24 March 2021), an important rediscovered pastel by celebrated romantic artist Eugène Delacroix, an Orientalist drawing which reappears on the market after having belonged to the painter Edgar Degas, estimated at 250,000-350,000.
The artists trip to North Africa in 1832 made a lasting impression on Delacroix for the rest of his career, as shown by this important pastel made in the last decades of his life, and which has come down to us in very good condition. A painting of the same composition kept in the former collection of the British painter Eliot Hodgkin (1905-1987), recently at the sale Christies, New York, 23 May 2007, lot 72, can be accurately dated thanks to the Journal of Delacroix (L. Johnson, The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix. A Critical Catalogue 1832-1863 (Movable Pictures and Private Decorations), III, no. 180, IV, pl. 12). From 17 September 1849, while staying in Champrosay, Delacroix wrote: I drew and sketched in a very short time the Arab who climbs on rocks to surprise a lion (Journal 1822-1863, Paris, 1931, p. 204); and on 22 June 1854, he added: finished the paintings of the Arab on the lookout for the lion and the Women at my fountain. It takes at least ten days before I can put the siccative on (ibid., p. 435).
A graphite drawing on tracing paper made in preparation for the painting, fairly close to the final composition, is in the Louvre (inv. MI 892; see M. Sérullaz, Dessins dEugène Delacroix. Inventaire général des dessins. École française, Paris, 1984, I, no. 378). Another study depicting a naked man in pen and brown ink, in a pose opposite to that in the pastel, has been associated to the present composition by Alfred Robaut, who at the time owned the sketch, although Maurice Sérullaz doubted the relationship (Louvre, inv. RF 9462; see A. Robaut, Luvre complet de Eugène Delacroix. Peintures, dessins, gravures, lithographies, Paris, 1885, no. 1229; and Sérullaz, op. cit., no. 881).
The richness of the colours used, and the cool palette green for the ground and blue for the sky, warmed by luminous touches of white and yellow are typical of Delacroixs pastels, and are also found in a Study of a tiger at the Musée Bonnat-Helleu in Bayonne (inv. R Ann 1164bis; see L. Johnson, Delacroix. Pastels, New York, 1995, no. 31), or in the Education of Achilles in the J. Paul Getty Museum, dated around 1862 (inv. R 841; see Johnson, op. cit., no. 19). In 1854, the year in which (according to his diary) he completed the painting corresponding to the present pastel, he also completed Arabs on the lookout for a lion, a painting in the same vein, which combines a landscape inspired by a grove in the countryside around Champrosay with an oriental hunt (Saint Petersburg, Hermitage State Museum, inv. 3853; see Delacroix. Les dernières années, exhib. cat., Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, and Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1998-1999, no. 10, ill.).
This pastel in the fresh blue-green tones so characteristic of Delacroix reappears on the market today as a rediscovery after having been part of the collection of Edgar Degas, which included no less than 230 of the artists works, paintings, drawings and prints (Ives, Stein, Steiner, op. cit., nos. 192-424). Lee Johnson pointed out the parallel between Degas and Delacroix in their approach to colour and in the use of the pastel medium powdery and luminous, and dear to both artists, which they each handle with great virtuosity in their own way (op. cit., 1995).