French painter Eugene Delacroix exhibited in London

This video from England says about itself:

Delacroix’s Colour | Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art | The National Gallery, London

16 February 2016

Why did Paul Cézanne describe Delacroix’s palette as ‘the most beautiful in France’? Professor Paul Smith explores Delacroix’s theories on colour and how his approach had a profound influence on the artists associated with the rise of modern art.

By Christine Lindey in Britain:

Godfather of modernism

Saturday 5th March 2016

As well as being the last great history painter, Eugene Delacroix was a huge influence on a new era of art, says CHRISTINE LINDEY

BORN into the republican upper-middle classes, French painter Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) may have been a political conservative but he was also aesthetically and socially progressive.

His epic painting The 28th July, Liberty Leading the People of 1830 is well-known but few of his other works are now familiar.

Yet the rebellious Romantic was one of the most controversial European artists of the first half of the 19th century, venerated by pioneers of modernism long after his death.

A complex, erudite and courageous painter he was, above all, a passionate seeker for the emotional truth of his subjects.

He questioned the dominance of rigid academic orthodoxy based on the classical ideal championed by Ingres, which advocated representing subjects through calm and symmetrical compositions, exhaustive detail and the supremacy of line over colour.

In contrast, Delacroix communicated the essential meanings of his subjects viscerally, by basing his compositions on dynamic contrasts of mass, light and colour and dispensing with finicky details of costume and surface textures.

Poetic imagination triumphed over historical reportage.

Refusing to limit himself to the French Academy’s classical and biblical themes, he added subjects from foreign and modern literature — drawing on Dante, Goethe and Byron — and from contemporary events, including the Greek war of liberation from the Ottoman empire.

Rather than make the traditional artistic pilgrimage to Italy, in 1832 he travelled to the recently colonised Algeria and to Morocco where the north African light and the life of its peoples were a revelation which inspired his pioneering Oriental themes.

Delacroix made his Salon debut in 1822 with the dramatic Barque of Dante, in which the life-size figures of Virgil and Dante loom towards us in a flimsy barque under threat of capsize. Damned souls cling to it to save themselves from the inferno’s tumultuous sea.

The massive Death of Sardanapalus of 1827 is even more dramatic. Based on Byron’s poem, it depicts the suicide of the last Assyrian king who, preferring death over submission to conquest, pre-ordered the destruction of his palace and possessions including his concubines.

As the tyrant’s slaves murder the women, the horror of this cruel and nihilistic act is conveyed via terrifying whirls and swirls of writhing flesh, drapery, raging fire and cascading treasure.

Yet Delacroix was far from a lifelong outsider. He had advocates in the liberal bourgeoisie, gained the Legion of Honour at the age of 33 and won prestigious commissions from church and state.

He had a profound knowledge of the Bible and of the classics and a superb command of draughtsmanship and human and animal anatomy, then essential for personifying abstract concepts.

His multi-layered allusions to the precariousness of life, the chaos and violence of war and the tyranny of unjust rulers are still relevant today.

Yet he was a product of a colonising, bourgeois state and of the values of his times and today’s public will rightly be repulsed by his sexist and racist assumptions and youthful obsession with violence.

Although he worked in many genres, he was primarily a history painter, tackling philosophical themes via now remote or unfamiliar literary subjects, so that his works can today be dauntingly unapproachable.

The National Gallery’s exhibition opens up his work to a 21st-century public by focusing on Delacroix’s influence on the better known early modernists.

We see how the Impressionists were inspired by his realisation that colours cast shadows of their complementary colour, so that juxtaposing them mutually heightens their vividness.

Delacroix’s frequent pairing of red and green, blue and orange and yellow and lilac were emulated and exaggerated by Impressionists such as Cezanne, Van Gogh and Matisse.

We learn that Renoir and Kandinsky travelled to north Africa in homage to Delacroix’s discovery of its vibrant colour and light. Van Gogh’s insight that colour can convey states of mind was indebted to his early realisation that in Delacroix’s paintings “the mood of colours and tone was at one with the meaning.”

Delacroix may have been the first modernist but he was also the last great history painter. Arguably, his greatest achievement was finding a convincing visual form for painting in the “grand manner” relevant to his own times.

This well displayed, visually enjoyable exhibition provides a palatable introduction to Delacroix but at the high price of presenting a tamed and distorted view of this contradictory, complex artist.

Only a few small replicas or sketches of his history paintings are displayed, while too much is made of his atypical flower and landscape painting and almost two-thirds of the paintings are by other artists.

Cuts to funding limits the National Gallery’s ability to stage large-scale exhibitions, as does its pokey, low-ceilinged exhibitions space.

But hopefully this show will whet public appetite and a future, less philistine, government will fund the arts adequately to permit the staging of a truly representative Delacroix exhibition.

Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art runs at the National Galllery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2, until May 22, box office:

4 thoughts on “French painter Eugene Delacroix exhibited in London

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