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Delacroix, Ferdinand Victor Eugene (1798-1863)

( Originally Published 1955 )

Leader of the French school of Romantic painting and one of the greatest names in French art. Sensitive in taste, acutely aware of the tradition of European painting, and possessed of a prodigious energy, Delacroix was perhaps the richest personality of the modern French school. He not only used other media, engraving and lithography, but during a considerable part of his life he kept his famous Journal. This diary is a mine of information about himself, his times, the creative process, and art in general. He was born into an important French family under rather curious circumstances which suggest that he was the son of the statesman Talleyrand, whom he resembled. After lycee he entered the studio of Guerin, a hopeless academician but, as was often the case, an excellent teacher. Delacroix was also affected by the style of Gros and by the personality of Gericault, with whom he became intimate. He followed in their steps with his Bark of Dante (Louvre) for the Salon of 1822. At this point the Romanticism of Gericault and Delacroix had not expressed itself in color. The Bark was derived from Michelangelo's Last Judgment, which Delacroix knew through reproductions. He never traveled to Italy. The advent of color is seen in the Massacre of Scio (Louvre) for the Salon of 1824, in which he lightened up the background after seeing a sketch by painter and his friends: all the pictures in his studio were bought by the picture dealer Vollard, who soon did the same for Vlaminck; Matisse visited their studio at Chatou and advised them to participate in the Independants showing; and they both joined the Fauve group at the Autumn Salon. During 1907 Derain turned to studies of form rather than color, working on sculpture, experimenting with wood engraving and concerning himself generally with problems of composition. The following year, 1908, he abandoned the pure colors of Fauvism in the face of the Cubist movement: with its emphasis on form and the revived interest in Cezanne. In 1909 his woodcut illustrations for Guillaume Apollinaire's L'Enchanteur Pourrisant mark a high point in the history of the modern illustrated book. During the 1910-12 period he began to do the form-controlled, low-toned landscapes and monumentalized figure studies that were thenceforth to be typical of his work. The figure studies at first showed clear influences of facet Cubism and then turned toward the kind of representational, mood-filled nudes that lift his art to a high place in French' painting. But these, like the low-keyed landscapes, have nothing to do with the Fauve movement. Derain has here become the typical French painter who, however much he may be attracted by the violence of a given moment in history, will tend to return to the traditional rational practices of French culture as a whole. Derain's figure pieces in this way become an extension of the great figure studies of the preceding century from Ingres to Cezanne.

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