Work The Italian Theater
Department of The Musée National Eugène-Delacroix
The Italian Theater
© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Harry Bréjat
A little-known aspect of his art
Long neglected in Delacroix’s body of works, his caricatures and illustrations for the press in the early 1820s bear witness to a time when the young painter was searching for expedients. This production is indicative of the stance he took against certain conformist ideas.
A political artist
Between 1821 and 1822, just as he began to take interest in the techniques of lithography, Delacroix published eight illustrations in Le Miroir des spectacles, des lettres, des mœurs et des arts, a newspaper newly launched on January 1, 1821 by Auguste Jal. This daily presented the theater shows playing in Paris on the front page, with reviews of the live performances on the following three pages. It was also known to cover literature and the arts scene. On a sporadic basis, it inserted a lithograph on a separate sheet for subscribers, accompanied by a box commentary on page 4 developing an argument around it that could be quite lengthy at times.
The Italian Theater was included in the August 13, 1821 edition. The commentary set the tone: “Now here we have a drawing of a rather unusual boldness and an impertinence that warrants correction. Rossini alone holding up the entire Italian Opera! What blasphemy! What are we to expect next from the foolhardiness of the lithographer? Has the wrath of the conservatory been assuaged? Has the hatred of the harpsichord professors subsided, and will Mr. Berton, who pens an article as easily as Rossini composes an opera, let this new attack by detractors of the musical ‘ancien régime’ go unpunished? I would indeed like to know where Mr. Lacroix received license to dare make such a pronouncement in favor of the author of Moses and Otello? I am convinced that Rossini himself would be the first to disclaim such exaggerations (...). I have named the author of the lithograph given to our subscribers; but he deserves to be seriously reproached for not providing it himself. When taking sides in a debate of such a serious nature, it is not permissible to withhold one’s name. No matter that the idea is original, no matter that his drawing is captivating and spiritual, a lithograph that hides behind the veil of anonymity to pay homage to Rossini deserves to be severely reprimanded. One must sign everything one does (...).”
The print echoed the feud raging between the followers of traditional opera, whose main representative was Henri Montan Berton (violinist, composer, and member of the Music Department at the Paris Académie des Beaux-Arts), and the partisans of Gioacchino Rossini who was enjoying great success at the time. Delacroix had profound admiration for the Italian composer.
In this composition, the Italian theater is personified by Rossini who is in contemporary dress and shown as a prolific creator—music scores spill from his pockets as he raises by the sheer strength of his arms the characters from his works: Otello, Desdemona, and Figaro. Delacroix thus provides a highly effective and unambiguous visual translation of Stendhal’s ideas published in Le Miroir, posing as a defender of Romantic Modernism against academic Classicism.
Susan Strauber, Eugène Delacroix. The Graphic Work. A Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 1997
Catalogue de l’exposition Delacroix, le trait romantique, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 6 avril-12 juillet 1998
Eugène DELACROIX (Charenton-Saint-Maurice, 1798 - Paris, 1863)
The Italian Theater
Lithograph; single state
Gift of the Société des Amis du Musée Eugène Delacroix, 2007
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