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Work Faust Attempts to Seduce Marguerite

Department of The Musée National Eugène-Delacroix

Faust Attempts to Seduce Marguerite, Eugène Delacroix

© RMN-Grand Palais / Madeleine Coursaget

The Musée National Eugène-Delacroix

Author(s):
Hélène Doré

The first series of book illustrations by Delacroix: Faust by Goethe

Delacroix produced the Faust series upon his return from a trip to England in 1825, where he had been moved by a theater production of Goethe’s work, performed by the famous actor Daniel Terry. The first series of book illustrations by the painter, it was completed in 1826 and 1827. Publisher Charles Motte published the 17 lithographs created by the artist to illustrate the main scenes in the book and accompany a new French translation by Albert Stapfer.

 

A Mannerist and Romantic interpretation

The scene depicts the romance between Faust and Marguerite. The episode takes place at the end of a street, showing the houses with pointed rooftops and openwork balconies that lend the depiction a medieval atmosphere. Delacroix plays here with the effects of lithography, contrasting a softer background with a scene that stands out much more clearly in the foreground. Faust wraps his right arm around the waist of Marguerite, who recoils in a movement of both attraction and repulsion, the curve of her bust exalting her femininity. “My fair lady, dare I offer you my arm and escort you?” Mephistopheles stands in front of them, his arms crossed behind his back. Delacroix exaggerates the implications contained in the scene: the grimace on the face of Mephistopheles and the dismissive frown of Marguerite have a caricature about them that is reflected in the sinuous and elongated lines of the figures. He takes liberties with basic body proportions, as evinced by the lithesome bust of Marguerite and the particularly skinny legs of Faust, whose face bears a strange resemblance to the devil to whom he would eventually sell his soul.

 

A controversial reception

Due to its Mannerist nature, the Faust series was not as successful as hoped: contemporaries accused Delacroix of overstepping the bounds of propriety, exaggerating the characters and situations, and falling into the extremes of ill-tamed Romanticism. Furthermore, the strangeness of the images contributed to establishing the painter as “a Corypheus of the school of the ugly,” a quote from the critics used by Delacroix himself in one of his letters, hurt by the virulent attacks on his work. Goethe himself was the one most deeply satisfied with the work. His admiration for the lithographs knew no bounds: “It must be admitted that I myself scarcely imagined the scene so perfectly,” he wrote to Eckermann (Eckermann, Conversations with Goethe).

Bibliography

Eckermann, Johann Peter, Conversations de Goethe avec Eckermann, traduction de Jean Chuzeville, Paris, Gallimard, 1942, 550 p.
Jobert, Barthélémy, Delacroix, Paris, Gallimard, 1997, pp. 104 - 114
DELACROIX, Le trait romantique, Catalogue d’exposition sous la direction de Barthélémy Jobert, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 7 avril – 13 juillet 1998, pp. 104 – 115

Technical description

  • Eugène DELACROIX (Charenton-Saint-Maurice, 1798 - Paris, 1863)

    Faust Attempts to Seduce Marguerite

    Between 1826 and 1827

  • H: 39.8 cm; W: 27.8 cm

  • 1st edition print (3rd of 6 states) with the address of Charles Motte

    MD 2004 - 2

  • The Musée National Eugène-Delacroix

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