I’d never given much thought to the French romantic painter Eugene Delacroix until I visited an exhibition dedicated to his work in the context of his time and of painters influenced by him.
Born in 1798 and old enough to be photographed by Nadar before he died in 1863 Delacroix is indeed the supreme master of colour and movement. An admirer of Rubens, Delacroix eschewed the formal lines and cool tints of his close contemporary Ingres and instead went for strange secondary colours, especially oranges and purples, and created a soil from which impressionism and even post impressionist were able to spring up. Among his many admirers were Renoir, Van Gogh and Gauguin, all of whose works are also represented here.
The exhibition, which opened on17 February and ends on 22 May, is divided into six sections.
The first shows all those painters who influenced Delacroix or were influenced by him. The second concentrates on what the painter called the living antiquity of north Africa. Algerian harem women, Sufi rites and attacks on horses by lions add to the eroticism and exoticism which so permeated the painter’s work after his visit there in 1832.
The third is dedicated to a normally placid subject, flowers, which Delacroix managed to imbue smouldering passion. The fourth moves to the great public works of the artist, his murals for national buildings in Paris. Clearly, these could only be illustrated by film. The fifth moves to landscape showing how brilliant Delacroix was in this little known aspect of his art.
Finally in a section entitled ‘colour music and utopia’ we see how lmuch succeding painters learnt from what I would also regard as the visual equivalent of French culture, Berlioz, both in his expansive romanticism, his love of Byron and above all his exquisite orchestration of the colour palette.
It was a revealing and enjoyable exhibition we visited at London’s National Gallery – yet another reason for visiting this ever changing and ever surprising city.