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Visitor trails Eugène Delacroix, Passion and Inspiration

Paintings - Length: 1 hr 30 mins - Tour days: Monday Wednesday Friday Saturday Sunday

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Eugène Delacroix, Mort de Sardanapale (détail)
Eugène Delacroix, Mort de Sardanapale (détail)

© Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

00Introduction

Discovering the art of Delacroix is like going on on a whirlwind journey through the deepest troughs of suffering, fear, despair and to the highest peaks of intense rapture and energy. In this tour, we will explore how the artist used color, light, and movement to arouse emotion in his audience.

One entry in the diary of Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) reads, “I dislike reasonable painting.” Many of his paintings depict scenes of suffering, fear, and despair, while others are filled with a sense of boundless rapture and energy or even tranquility. His art draws on themes from mythology, literature, the mysterious East, and contemporary history, all treated with the same emotional intensity. We have presented the paintings, both large and small, not according to chronology but rather in the way we feel best represents his use of color, light, and movement to arouse emotion and to make his audience question their own attitudes to art. Let yourself be swept away by Delacroix’ passion and inspiration!


How to get to the next stop:
Starting from the pyramid, take the escalator to the Denon wing. After the ticket barrier, turn right and take lift K on your left to the first floor. Look at the left-hand wall in room 77, which holds the largest works in the French painting collection.

Dante and Virgil in Hell, also known as The Barque of Dante
Dante and Virgil in Hell, also known as The Barque of Dante

© Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier - M. Bard

01The Barque of Dante

This, the first work Delacroix submitted to the Paris Salon, draws on an episode from Dante’s Divine Comedy, written in Italy in the thirteenth and fourteenth century. Virgil, the Latin poet, is taking the author on a journey of initiation. Delacroix chose this scene to reflect his vision of humanity which he felt had lost its bearings. The scene takes place in Hell. Note the red glow of eternal hellfire in the background and the ghastly pallor of the dead in the foreground, symbolizing all the horror of the underworld. Take a close look at the painting to see the writhing bodies and terrified expressions of the dead, naked, their eyes wide with fear and their faces contorted with pain. We sense the pain and terror of the damned souls that try in vain to cling to the barque. In the midst of this chaos are the two poets. Dante is wearing a red cap, while Virgil’s face is framed by a swathe of white cloth. They are standing in the barque, observing the chaos all around them. Note, in the center of the painting, their hands, so close they might almost be touching.

How to get to the next stop:
Turn left and pass through rooms 77, 76, and 75. Go down the stairs on the left and then straight back up towards the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Cross the Apollo rotunda and rooms 34 and 74. There, on the right, take lift C to the second floor. Turn right out of the lift and walk on to room 62.

Hamlet and Horatio at the Cemetery
Hamlet and Horatio at the Cemetery

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

02Hamlet and Horatio in the graveyard

In act five of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet, accompanied by Horatio, meditates on the frailty of human existence as he waits for his fiancée’s funeral procession. Delacroix produced several works based on this scene to explore this existential anguish. You can see another such small painting on your left.
Look at the skull and note how the grave-digger’s exaggerated gesture creates a feeling of malaise. Trace the line of vision of each character and the axes formed by the hill, the path, and the finger pointed by the figure seen from the back: they all lead to the disinterred skull. Note the subtle play of colors. The gray, blue, and yellow of the sky and the soil form a gloomy setting and a heavy atmosphere fully in tune with the grieving figures. Hamlet is wearing black, the color of mourning. His smooth face and delicate fingers are signs of his fleeting youth.

How to get to the next stop:
Now look at the wall perpendicular to this one on your right.

Jewish Wedding in Morocco
Jewish Wedding in Morocco

© Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier - M. Bard

03Jewish wedding in Morocco

Delacroix’ journey to Morocco proved a decisive influence on his art, as evinced by the numerous sketchbooks he brought back with him. He drew on these sketches, watercolors, and notes to compose a number of major paintings, more serene in nature than those we have seen, including this wedding scene. We know that he was a guest at a wedding in Tangiers.
Note how the contrasts of light and shade give depth to the scene. Look at the various figures in the group and observe the range of poses, gestures, and gazes. Now take a closer look at the painting and see how Delacroix used small brushstrokes to evoke the bright lights and colors of this Oriental scene. But why has he left a white wall and an empty space in the center of the painting? Probably in reference to the bride’s absence. The various doors, windows, and other openings are there to pique our curiosity. It is clear that something important is going on indoors. In the same room, on the facing wall to the right, you can see a self-portrait of the artist.

How to get to the next stop:
Pass through rooms 64 to 69 to reach room 71.

Young Orphan Girl in the Cemetery
Young Orphan Girl in the Cemetery

© Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier - M. Bard

04Young orphan girl in the cemetery

This painting, an early work by Eugène Delacroix, was long thought to be a preparatory piece for the Massacre at Chios. Even before reading the title, it is clear that an air of sadness emanates from the picture.
Note how clear and precise the outlines are. The young girl is sharply defined against the less precise background of the sky and the deserted cemetery. Note how Delacroix has subtly conveyed signs of the girl’s grief – the tears welling up in her dark-ringed eyes, the half-open mouth, the way her gown has slipped off her shoulder, her hand lying dully on her thigh. Observe the play of shadows on her nape and neck and the darker shade to the right of the figure. The cold, dull colors of her clothing and the landscape echo the overall atmosphere of despair.
Take a close look at the beautifully delicate lines of the girl’s face and neck and the light touch of fabric which heighten the impression of solitude.
What can the orphan be gazing at, beyond the frame?

How to get to the next stop:
Now look at the painting on your right.

The Prisoner of Chillon
The Prisoner of Chillon

© Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier - M. Bard

05The prisoner of Chillon

This painting draws on a poem by the great early-nineteenth-century English poet Byron, inspired by the fate of François Bonivard, a sixteenth-century politician from Geneva. Bonivard was imprisoned in Chillon castle on the shores of Lake Geneva for challenging the authorities of the day and was forced to watch his brother die. Delacroix is particularly interested in the violent treatment of the prisoner and his helplessness.
The scene takes place in a prison cell. Your eyes take a while to adjust to the gloom before you can see the contorted body of the captive. Note how the light shines on the diagonal line of his foot pushing against the pillar and the way the muscles of the body and arms are strained with desperation as the prisoner gazes imploringly at the second figure. See the chain set into the rock that holds him prisoner. Lying curled in the dark, forming a striking contrast to the desperately lunging prisoner, is the body of his dying brother – just a few feet away, but forever beyond his reach. Note the gloomy palette of similar browns and ochres which add to the impression of the prisoner’s feral wildness, brought out by such long captivity.

How to get to the next stop:
Go on to the next room, room 72.

Rebecca Abducted by the Templar
Rebecca Abducted by the Templar

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

06The Abduction of Rebecca

The scene is taken from Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe, set in medieval times. Delacroix often drew his inspiration from tragic tales of murder, kidnapping, and sacrifice, which allowed him to use his nervous brushwork and colorful palette to best advantage.
Stand to the left of the painting to have a side view of the work. Trace your line of vision with your finger, from the beam at the bottom to the horse’s crupper and mane, Rebecca, and the smoke rising skywards. This S-shaped curve structures the work as a whole. The brutal abduction is captured in the heat of the action. Note how the heroine is struggling to escape her kidnapper, her torso and neck arching backwards. Now, standing directly in front of the painting, note the warm colors – reds, oranges, and yellows – and the splashes of white in the chaos of the night. This contrast reflects the dramatic intensity of the scene and the young woman’s terror.

How to get to the next stop:
Now turn to your right and look at the wall perpendicular to this one.

Furious Medea
Furious Medea

© R.M.N./G. Blot

07Medea

This painting refers to a mythical character from Greek legend. Medea, abandoned and betrayed by Jason, wreaks terrible vengeance by slaughtering their children.
Trace the pyramid of the figures with your finger and note how the bodies of the two children seem to meld with that of their mother – a reference to maternal love. Light shines into the cave from the left and highlights the sensual, generous lines of the three figures. Has the woman sought refuge in the cave to protect her children – or to kill them? Note the various elements that suggest the wildness of the site – the cave, the earth, the plants – and of the figures – Medea’s wild hair, the shadow across her face, the rough way she is handling the children, and the terror in their eyes. The richness of her jewelry, including the diadem that represents her status as a repudiated queen, forms an ironic contrast with the barbarous act she is about to commit. Her determination is clear from her stern profile and her firm grip on the dagger, while the reds and browns of her robes echo her fury.

How to get to the next stop:
Retrace your footsteps back to the lifts and take lift C to the first floor. Turn left out of the lift and pass through the rooms back to the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Go down two flights of stairs then go back up to the right to the red rooms housing the collection of large French paintings. Pass through rooms 75, 76, and 77 again. The next painting is in the middle of the right-hand wall.

Massacres at Chios; Greek Families Awaiting Death or Slavery
Massacres at Chios; Greek Families Awaiting Death or Slavery

© R.M.N./H. Lewandowski

08The Massacre at Chios

This subject was drawn from a contemporary event – the early-nineteenth-century war of independence fought by the Greeks against the Turks. Thousands of Greeks were massacred on the island of Chios. Delacroix was inspired by reports of the events to produce this large painting.
Walk past the painting from left to right, looking at the faces and bodies on which the light falls. Their expressions are a perfect picture of fear and weary despair. The horror of war is suggested by the semi-nudity and the physical lassitude of the defeated Greeks. The blades of the daggers are there to see. Tears and blood are flowing over the bodies of a dying couple. The victorious forces in their uniforms are in shadow, suggesting the unhappy fate that awaits the captives.
Take a couple of steps back and look at the background of the painting. The alternating patches of dark and light form an apocalyptic scene – the aftermath of a dreadful battle. The blurred brushstrokes strengthen this impression of desolation.

How to get to the next stop:
Now look at the painting on your left.

Women of Algiers in their Apartment
Women of Algiers in their Apartment

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

09Women of Algiers in their apartment

Baudelaire, the great nineteenth-century French poet, called this painting – the first of Delacroix’s great works inspired by his visit to the Orient – a “small poem of an interior full of rest and silence”. In Algiers, Delacroix paid a secret visit to a harem.
The overall impression of this painting is one of great serenity. Note the delicious light that bathes the setting. Yet the scene is also full of colors and shapes, transformed by the light, filling the space so that the eye is constantly drawn from one to another. Note the great variety of elements. The tones overlap and intertwine to form a vibrant yet refined palette. Observe the nonchalance of the serving girl and the languid poses of the beautiful Oriental women. Their hands, legs, and drifting gazes add to the overall impression of torpor. Look closely at the painting and admire the range of effects Delacroix has achieved in depicting various materials, the dull surfaces of the carpets, cushions, and tiles contrasting with the shimmering mirrors, jewels, silks, and glass. The thick paint and small brushstrokes add to the somewhat claustrophobic, suffocating ambience of the painting.

How to get to the next stop:
Now look at the painting on the left.

Death of Sardanapalus
Death of Sardanapalus

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

10The Death of Sardanapalus

Sardanapalus was a legendary Oriental king of Antiquity who ordered a sacrificial pyre to be built to expiate the shame of a military defeat. After ordering the massacre of all his women, slaves, and horses, he chose to burn to death on the pyre. Delacroix, always drawn to such extreme subjects, took the opportunity to paint a vision of horror.
The scene is one of utter chaos. Where is it taking place? Group the figures together in pairs – the king and his mistress, unconscious on the bed, the black slave pulling at the white horse on the left, the naked woman being stabbed by the man on the right. The figures are scattered across the canvas, making it difficult to find any visual coherence. Take a couple of steps back and half-close your eyes to see how the blocks of white, yellow, and red form a warm, bright splash across the canvas from left to right and from top to bottom. The lust for luxury and pleasure are reflected in the colorful objects, swathes of cloth, jewels, and the reeling bodies. The king’s emotionless expression is all the more shocking in the midst of such an orgy of violence.

How to get to the next stop:
The trail is now finished. Turn right and pass through room 77. Take lift K in room 76 down to the mezzanine level to return to the pyramid.

 

Author(s) :
Martine Duverger et Christine Thibert