Art History Eugène Delacroix
Nina M. Athanassoglou-Kallmyer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0101


In the history of 19th-century painting, Eugène Delacroix (b. 1798–d. 1863) is a pivotal presence, extolled by art-historical literature as one of the glories of French artistic achievement, and as the hinge between past and present as well as tradition and modernism. This perception is often buttressed by the painter’s own declarations of himself as “a pure classic” who was also a self-avowed romantic affiliate. His apprenticeship, starting in 1819, in the studio of the neoclassical master Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (b. 1775–d. 1843) familiarized him with the timeless models of an academic education, ranging from ancient sculpture to the works of the old masters he studied at the Louvre, while also allowing him the freedom to pursue his own aesthetic ideal shaped by the fashions of his times and by contemporary painters he admired such as Jean-Antoine Gros (b. 1771–d. 1835) and Théodore Géricault (b. 1791–d. 1824). His formative years under the Bourbon Restoration (1815–1830) were marked by important paintings, including The Barque of Dante (1822), The Massacres of Chios (1824), and The Death of Sardanapalus (1827). They culminated in his grand “real-allegory” celebrating the July Revolution of 1830, Liberty Leading the People (Salon of 1831). Maturity and fame were ushered with the advent of the July Monarchy (1830–1848), during which, along with his discovery of the Orient as part of a diplomatic mission in North Africa in 1832, he received important official commissions for decorative mural cycles at the Palais du Luxembourg and the Palais Bourbon (or Assemblée Nationale). The last fifteen years of his life span the Second Republic (1848–1852) and part of the Second Empire (1852–1870). In 1857, he was elected as a member of the French Academy. His last works include major public murals in Saint-Sulpice’s chapel of the Holy Angels, as well as an array of oil paintings with historical, literary, orientalist, and genre themes. In many ways, his life—as with much as his work—encompasses the spirit of his turbulent times. Born in an era of turmoil and contested established social and aesthetic values, such as followed the French Revolution of 1789, and coming of age under the shattered Napoleonic empire, Delacroix’s composite subjectivity and complex oeuvre must be understood within the tensions and ambivalences of that new age, positioned at the cusp of an obsolete past and the emergence of a new order—political, social, cultural, and artistic. That new age affected more than just France. In the global, post-Napoleonic Europe of geopolitical boundaries merged or redrawn, and of ethnic identities questioned or blurred, this was a time of fusion of opposites, and of a shared culture circulating internationally at the whim of transnational fashions and tastes—visual, musical, and literary. Delacroix’s achievement must be seen therefore as part of that multilayered and cosmopolitan cultural matrix that indiscriminately merged the local and the imported, the elite and the popular, tradition and novelty, and the familiar and the pathbreaking: Marcus Aurelius, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Victor Cousin; Peter Paul Rubens, John Constable, Thomas Lawrence, and Francisco Goya; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Domenico Cimarosa, Gioachino Rossini, and Niccolò Paganini; William Shakespeare, François Rabelais, Germaine de Staël, and Charles Robert Maturin. His reliance on this expansive, diachronic, and aesthetically multivalent field of inspiration both reenacted the new norms of the time’s pan-European culture and employed them as means to break down the stranglehold of inherited orders—national (and nationalistic), societal, institutional, and, above all, aesthetic.

Reference Works

The publication of the first catalogue raisonné of Delacroix’s oeuvre, Robaut 1885, coincided with the first major exhibition of Delacroix’s oeuvre held at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1885. This early attempt was followed by another catalogue raisonné, Johnson 1981–1989. Over the years, several reference publications investigated circumscribed aspects of Delacroix’s oeuvre, including Loys Delteil’s 1908 catalogue of Delacroix’s graphic work (revised by Susan Strauber in Delteil 1997), Sérullaz 1984 (an inventory of Delacroix’s drawings in the Louvre museum), Lee Johnson’s catalogue of Delacroix’s pastels (Johnson 1995), and, on a more popular level, Georgel and Bortollato 1984 (a monograph with attending catalogue raisonné).

  • Delteil, Loys. Delacroix: The Graphic Work, a Catalogue Raisonné. Rev. ed. Edited and translated by Susan Strauber. San Francisco: Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 1997.

    As edited and updated by Strauber, this is the enhanced version in English of Delteil’s catalogue raisonné of Delacroix’s printed oeuvre as part of Delteil’s classic series Le peintre graveur illustré III: Ingres et Delacroix (Paris: Chez l’Auteur, 1908). A superb work of research and cataloguing.

  • Georgel, Pierre, and Luigina Rossi Bortollato. Tout l’oeuvre peint de Delacroix. New ed. Translated by Simone Darses. Les Classiques de l’Art. Paris: Flammarion, 1984.

    Includes introduction, excerpts from period-critical reviews, color images, chronology, and catalogue raisonné of the paintings, with black-and-white postage-size illustrations. A convenient, albeit dated, quick-reference volume.

  • Johnson, Lee. The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix: A Critical Catalogue, 1816–1831. 6 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981–1989.

    The invaluable and comprehensive catalogue raisonné of Delacroix’s painted oeuvre, by one of its foremost experts and scholars. Entries consist of detailed commentary, endnotes, bibliographical references, and provenance and exhibition listings. They are arranged by subject matter within large, chronologically bound sections. Copies, lost works, and doubtful works are included in separate sections.

  • Johnson, Lee. Delacroix Pastels. New York: George Braziller, 1995.

    A catalogue of Delacroix’s pastels organized in large thematic categories, prefaced by an erudite introduction by the author.

  • Robaut, Alfred. L’oeuvre complet de Eugène Delacroix: Peintures, dessins, gravures, lithographies; Catalogué et reproduit par Alfred Robaut, commenté par Ernest Chesneau; Ouvrage publié avec la collaboration de Fernand Calmettes. Paris: Charavay Frères, 1885.

    The printer and lithographer Robaut’s catalogue raisonné of Delacroix’s paintings, drawings, and graphic work, issued on the occasion of the painter’s retrospective at the École des Beaux-Arts in March and April 1885. Entries are illustrated with Robaut’s postage-size linear reproductions of Delacroix’s works. Available online.

  • Sérullaz, Maurice. Dessins d’Eugène Delacroix, 1798–1863. 2 vols. Collaboration by Arlette Sérullaz, Louis-Antoine Prat, and Claudine Ganeval. Paris: Éditions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1984.

    The complete listing of the Louvre’s important collection of Delacroix drawings, with expert annotations by eminent Delacroix connoisseurs.

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