|Delacroix, Eugène (1798-1863)|
| French painter, whose work
exemplified 19th-century romanticism, and whose influence extended to
Delacroix was born on April 26, 1798, at Charenton-Saint Maurice, and he studied under the French painter Pierre Guérin. He was trained in the formal neoclassical style of the French painter Jacques-Louis David, but he was strongly influenced by the more colorful, opulent style of such earlier masters as the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens and the Italian painter Paolo Veronese. He also absorbed the spirit of his contemporary and countryman Théodore Géricault, whose early works exemplify the violent action, love of liberty, and budding romanticism of the turbulent post-Napoleonic period.
Delacroix's artistic career began in 1822, when his first painting, The Barque of Dante (1822, Louvre, Paris), was accepted by the Paris Salon. He achieved popular success in 1824 with Massacre at Chios (Louvre), which portrays the topical and heroic subject of the Greek struggle for independence. On a trip to England in 1825, he studied the work of English painters. The influence of R. P. Bonington, who painted in bright, jewel-like colors, is evident in Delacroix's subsequent works, such as Death of Sardanapalus (1827, Louvre). A full-fledged work of his mature style, it is a lavish, violent, colorful canvas in which women, slaves, animals, jewels, and fabrics are combined in a swirling, almost delirious composition. The painting portrays the decision made by an ancient king to have his possessions (including his women) destroyed before he kills himself.
Delacroix's most overtly romantic and perhaps most influential work is Liberty Leading the People (1830, Louvre), a semiallegorical glorification of the idea of liberty. This painting confirmed the clear division between the romantic style of painting, which emphasized color and spirit, and the concurrent neoclassical style (headed by the French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres), which emphasized line and cool detachment.
Delacroix remained the dominant French romantic painter throughout his life. A trip to North Africa in 1832 provided subjects for more than 100 sensuous canvases. In addition, he received many government commissions for murals and ceiling paintings. Many of his late works, especially animal pictures, hunt scenes, and marine subjects, are superb, but others exhibit a certain dryness of execution and lack of inspiration. He also illustrated various works of William Shakespeare, the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott, and the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Delacroix's technique, in which he applied contrasting colors with small strokes of the brush, creating a particularly vibrant effect, was an important influence on the impressionists. He is also well known for his Journals, which display considerable literary talent and express his views on art, politics, and life. Delacroix died in Paris on August 13, 1863.