FIGAROVOX / CHRONICLE - He was the painter of the invisible and of poetry, the child of the century par excellence. On the occasion of the magnificent retrospective organized at the Louvre Museum, Le Figaro Hors-Série examines the emblematic figure of the leader of Romanticism.
Michel De Jaeghere is director of Figaro History and Figaro Hors-Série. The last issue of the Figaro Hors-Série is dedicated to the painter Delacroix: find it on the online store of Figaro.
"Do not neglect anything that can make you big." It was Stendhal who gave him this advice. Others would have found it intimidating; he had stood with an iron will.
Delacroix did not have a workshop, no assistants painting in his own way and multiplying the works that came out of his imagination to satisfy the requirements of the order. If he sometimes took collaborators to help him realize the great decorations brushed on the cupolas and vaults of the Louvre, the Luxembourg Palace and the Bourbon Palace or on the walls of Saint-Sulpice, he painted the essentials of his work alone, with a prodigality worthy of his dear Rubens. "Eugène Delacroix has left nine thousand one hundred and forty works, among which are eight hundred and fifty-three paintings, fifteen hundred and twenty-five pastels, watercolors or wash, six thousand six hundred and twenty-nine drawings, twenty-four engravings, one hundred and nine lithographs and more than sixty albums »we read in the first lines of the catalog raisonné of his work. He had touched, with an unparalleled fury of painting, all genres: political news as well as Greco-Roman mythology, literary myths, religious painting, genre scenes, reportage, history painting, animals, hunting, bouquets, portraiture. He had practiced easel painting and covered the "great walls" of the national palaces. Engraved episodes from Shakespeare's plays and Goethe's books and brushed large oil machines to dazzle visitors to the Salon; swayed the steamy slaves of Sardanapalus and twisted the Christ of flogging with pain.
What is striking about the splendid retrospective that the Louvre Museum is now proposing is the profound unity of a work so abundant and so diverse. The constancy with which, despite the variety of subjects and the evolutions of his way, an outstanding personality breaks through. Whether he embarks the spectator in Dante's boat or makes him ride on a rump to participate with him in cavalcades where the gallop of horses is punctuated by gunshots in the dry air; whether he associates her with the abduction of Rebecca or leads her to the deliverance of Andromeda; Whether it makes him attend a lion hunt or plunges him with Saint Louis into the confused melee of the Battle of Taillebourg, it is in movement and color, the ordering of an action sublimated by a harmony that transcends disorder without abolishing force, the same breathless search of the impulse of life.
Delacroix has something confusing for art historians. For a long time he became the leader of Romanticism. The equivalent of what Berlioz had been for music, Victor Hugo for literature. He had certainly frequented the circles, but he had ceased to proclaim himself a classic. He did not hold in high esteem the overly The Legend of the Centuries and put Mozart on top of everything in music. What he had been, in reality, the adversary, is an academism that he considered sterilizing: the neoclassicism of which Ingres was, after David, the exemplary figure, and who thought to reach the sublime by fixing the imitated models of the ancients in a solemn stiffness, an impassibility of ice-colored statues by the will of greatness. He had wanted each of his paintings to be the very translation of the sensations felt at the show he had staged. That they have the heat, the colors, the movement, that they translate the emotion.
It was the very spring of the superiority that painting had in his eyes of literature: it made it possible to express and transmit his impressions without a filter, to make them feel at a glance. Romanticism would have consisted in letting go of the bridle, in leaving them the command. To renounce for them the art of composition. Delacroix did the opposite. He did not believe that in order to "get out of the rut" one had to sacrifice the "eternal laws of taste", to ward off the loss of energy of a society devalized by prosaicism and conventions by awakening the senses. by returning to "the wild state". His scenes of the Scio massacres combine the crudity of the representation of Ottoman barbarism with the calm grandeur of the vanquished in the face of defeat and death. His Christ in the Garden of Olives revives without pathos with the tragic sense of the Tintoretto of San Rocco. His death of Sardanapale presents a swirling of bodies and figures where a horse harnessed with jewels is not lacking, in an immense disorder of furniture, crockery, jewels, goldsmith's pieces where seem to set in motion convulsions of a collective agony, but in a unity of colors of purple and gold which emphasizes the poetic dimension and orders the choreography. His Moulay Abd-er-Rahman coming out of his palace of Meknes owes his color and his lights to the sky of Morocco; his composition to the Chancellor Séguier immortalized by Le Brun under an umbrella, in the heart of a ballet of squires in silk doublets embroidered with gold. His Heliodorus, driven out of the Temple, is a double quotation from the Miracle of Tintoretto's slave and Raphael's chambers.
Delacroix professed that the most vivid colors could be married to each other, provided that they were bound to bind them as they are in nature: "Give me that blue cushion and red carpet," he explained to George Sand's son. Let's put them side by side. You see that where the two tones touch each other, they steal each other. The red becomes tinged with blue; the blue becomes washed with red and, in the middle, the violet occurs. You can stick in a painting the most violent tones; give them the reflection that connects them, you will never be screaming. Is nature sober in tone? Does not it overflow fierce oppositions that do not destroy its harmony? It is that everything is linked by the reflection. We try to suppress that in painting, we can, but then there is a small inconvenience, it is that the painting is removed from the blow. "
As evidenced by the decor painted by him for the Louvre Apollo Gallery, which saw his art harmonize naturally with that of Le Brun without yielding to pastiche, which actually restored the vitality of its forms, the ballet of his The splendor of his colors was what had been the essence of classicism, such as he had triumphed in the Grand Siècle in all his fantasies, before he froze, among his followers, in his caricature. . Delacroix is less romantic, perhaps, than Baroque, as Louis XIV's festivals had been before him at Versailles.
For a history of art that has now renounced the categories too strict for fear of sacrificing too many contradictions, subtleties, nuances pedagogical simplifications; to be obliged also to make judgments of value, to prioritize, to choose between schools which one proclaims all equally legitimate in the concern to reach to a scientific objectivity which forces to hold the sensibility and the taste at the edge (which sometimes condemns, for fear of saying nonsense, to say nothing at all), Delacroix is today more simply considered, for his refusal of conventions, his clashes with criticism, his rejection of academism, as the father of modern art.
The subject is not much happier. It is more false still. His Journal testifies, Delacroix was of a deeply reactionary temperament: "I have no sympathy for the present time," he writes. (...) All my predilections are for the past, and all my studies turn to the masterpieces of past centuries. "" If, imprudently, we launched before him the great chimera of modern times, the balloon-monster of the perfectibility and indefinite progress, testifies Baudelaire, willingly he asked you: "Where are your Phidias? where are your Raphael? "
But his distance from modernity can be read, especially, in his painting itself. He never thought of making himself, as Baudelaire would later advocate, and as Manet, Monet, Degas, and Constantine Guys would strive after, "the painter of modern life". This painter touch-everything has painted everything, except life that was contemporary.
If it puts the spotlight, it is on the occasion of the war of independence of the Greeks, who by its landscapes, its costumes, its practices, installs a distance which makes it enter History. If he sketches live scenes of everyday life, he does it in Morocco, where the difference of sky, clothing, manners, allows to reconcile the observation of nature with an exoticism that gives it even we observe the poetry of a work of imagination, the dignity of a scene drawn from Greco-Roman antiquity. If he paints with joy the Jewish wedding on a patio bathed in light and shadow or three young girls Algiers smoking narghile under the gaze of their African slave, it is precisely because these scenes allow him to associate to the freshness of the thing seen the power of a timeless allegory.
Moreover, what separates Delacroix from the later evolution of modern painting is the importance of the subject itself. The scarcity of his landscapes, which are at home most of the time only backgrounds, cases, is not the result of circumstances. Nothing is more foreign to him than Monet's intention of painting the vibration of light. It will never remain for him an auxiliary. His paintings are narrations, they tell us a story. They refer to an inheritance, a treasure trove of references that delivers the viewer a silent head-to-head offering to share, with the work, a common language, and feel, behind the anecdote, the pretext, what they express as fruitful, transmissible, eternal. That they belong to the classical culture of which Delacroix had been impregnated since childhood (Alexandre has locked Homer's poems in a gold cassette) or the observation of moroccan morals, after the dazzlement of his discovery of North Africa, of literature (Dante, Ariosto, Shakespeare, Byron, Walter Scott) or of History, his subjects do not attach themselves to the works of the mind, to the memories of the past, to the mores distant lands or contemporary wars only to magnify the beauty that gives them a universal dimension.
His approach is thus the antithesis of modern subjectivity, which requires the artist to translate his fleeting impressions, his ideas, his concepts on the canvas, as a hypostasis of himself; which celebrates as a result the disappearance of the subject in favor of the only play of colors and abstract forms. On the contrary, Delacroix was a Renaissance man in the tradition of a culture, a historical and literary heritage that, at the school of Veronese and Rubens, he intended to prolong, enrich and transmit in order to emphasize the permanence of the human adventure.
"What a pity such a charming man makes such a painting!" said of him, always extralucid, the good company which crossed him in the salons which, curious of the conversation of his contemporaries, he surveyed without tiring during all his career. The insignificance of his commensals appeared to this dandy with the eyes of a beast, sparkling with irony, like a windfall. Their attendance was safe for him, because it did not interfere with his concentration, as the half-learned remarks of art critics or his colleagues might have done; by leaving her mind in repose, she had the merit of keeping her impressions intact, of allowing her to keep them intact, to restore the strength and freshness of the canvas. He had nonetheless felt the violence of the criticism of which he had been, throughout his life, the target as a blatant injustice. Nothing would have amused this reader of Voltaire more than the prospect of being admired, after his death, at the cost of a misinterpretation.
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Source: © Michel De Jaeghere: "Delacroix touched, with an incomparable fury of painting, to all genres"
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