Work Mary Magdalene in the Desert
Department of The Musée National Eugène-Delacroix
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Mary Magdalene in the Desert, Eugène Delacroix
© RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Droits réservés
Noticed by the young Charles Baudelaire when it was exhibited at the Salon of 1845, Mary Magdalene in the Desert is one of the masterpieces of the museum’s collection. It is surely one of the most exceptional of Delacroix’s religiously inspired works, both for its composition and for the mystery that emanates from this woman, with her closed eyes and thick, sumptuous mane of hair. It was one of the works Delacroix chose for display at the 1855 World’s Fair.
A unique and unusual work
Ever since this painting was first exhibited at the Salon of 1845 (no. 435), it has made a striking impact; an unusual artwork that is in fact unique in Delacroix’s religious production by the emotional intensity that radiates from the figure with the enigmatic eyes and smile, a luminous apparition in Rubenesque tones against a dark and austere background.
While Delacroix had painted sometime shortly before 1845 a Mary Magdalene at Prayer (Oskar Reinhart collection, Winterthur) more similar in style to his other religious works, there is no question he attached great importance to this Magdalene, since he chose to include it in the brilliant selection of his works presented at the 1855 World’s Fair.
This enigmatic artwork elicited a great deal of comment, receiving both praise and criticism. Worthy of note is Baudelaire’s perspicacious tribute, fascinated by “the splendid head of Mary Magdalene tilted back, with a strange and mysterious smile, and so supernaturally lovely that we do not know if she carries the glory of death or is beautified by the swoon of divine love.” (Curiosités esthétiques, IV, 1855 World’s Fair, p. 238).
A brief history of the Magdalene
According to Achille Piron (1865), Delacroix sold Mary Magdalene in the Desert in 1854, although unfortunately the name of the purchaser is not known. When the artwork was exhibited at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1885, records indicate that it was loaned by Daniel Iffla, known as Osiris (1896–1904), who purchased the Malmaison estate in 1896.
Charles Baudelaire, La vie et l’œuvre d’Eugène Delacroix, Paris, René Kieffer, 1928, p.58
Lee Johnson, The paintings of Eugène Delacroix, a Critical Catalogue, Volume II, Oxford, 1986, n° 429, repr. 239; Fourth Supplement and Reprint of Third supplement, Oxford, 2002, n°429, p.239 et p.334.
Arlette Sérullaz, “Acquisitions” in Revue du Louvre, I - 1991, p. 136, repr.
Eugène DELACROIX (Charenton-Saint-Maurice, 1798 - Paris, 1863)
Mary Magdalene in the Desert
Oil on canvas
H. 0.555 x W. 0.450 m
Acquired with a contribution from Mr. and Mrs. Lucien Bourdon and Mr. Alfred Daber, 1990
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