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Work Self-portrait as Ravenswood or Hamlet

Department of The Musée National Eugène-Delacroix

Self-portrait as Ravenswood or Hamlet, Eugène Delacroix

© Paris, musée Eugène Delacroix Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / René-Gabriel Ojéda

The Musée National Eugène-Delacroix

Author(s):
Catherine Adam

The oldest known painted self-portrait of Delacroix

This painting, the oldest known self-portrait of Delacroix, was presumably done in the early 1820s. It projects a rather enigmatic image of the artist. Delacroix portrayed himself as a young Romantic hero, much like an actor on stage about to give his soliloquy. Standing squarely, with great poise, in front of niche painted in broad strokes, he appears to lean with his left hand on what could be a pillar, with his right hand resting on the pommel of a sword worn at his side. With broad and generous brushwork, he makes sparing use of color, brightening dark tones with a yellow, artificial light that calls to mind theater lighting.

As the stretcher once bore the inscription ‘Raveswood’ (for Ravenswood) that has since become illegible, some authors concluded that Delacroix depicted himself as the hero of Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor, published in 1819 and translated into French soon after. Like the young lord who was stripped of his castle and lands and left destitute, Delacroix was only twenty years of age when, an orphan with his siblings, he found himself in a very precarious financial situation due to legal disputes with unscrupulous creditors who wanted to claim what was left of their fortune and particularly land that the family still owned in the Boixe forest at Mansle in the Charente department.

Yet other authors felt that the inscription was more in reference to his friend, miniaturist Auguste Carrier, whom Delacroix chose later to be an executor of his will and to whom the painter gave his portrait. Delacroix liked to call his friend by the name of Walter Scott’s hero.


Hamlet, the embodiment of duality

It is likely that Delacroix chose here to portray himself as Hamlet, dressed in a student’s black cloak. Shakespeare was without a doubt the playwright the painter admired most, citing him numerous times in his Journal. Hamlet, the unfortunate prince of Denmark, was one of his richest sources of inspiration. Hamlet’s inner strife moved him deeply; in 1834, the artist began a series of lithographs devoted to Hamlet, which he completed in 1843. Clearly identifying himself with the Shakespearian hero, he endowed his portrait of Hamlet with his own youthful features.


Spanish reference for a British hero

The most immediate visual reference is to be found in the Portrait of Charles II, King of Spain, attributed at the time to Velazquez. It was exhibited in the Duke of Orleans’ gallery of paintings in the Palais-Royal in Paris.

Bibliography

George Heard Hamilton, “Hamlet or Childe Harold? Delacroix and Byron”, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1944, p. 367-386
Lee Johnson, The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix. A Critical Catalogue, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1981, t. I, n°40
Viktoria von der Brüggen, Zwischen Ölskizze und Bild. Untersuchungen zu Werken von John Constable, Eugène Delacroix und Adolph Menzel, Frankfurt-am-Main, Peter Lang, 2004, p. 90-95.

Technical description

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

    Self-portrait as Ravenswood or Hamlet

  • Oil on canvas

  • Bequest of Paul Jamot to the Société des Amis d’Eugène Delacroix, 1939; Acquired by the State in 1953 RF 1953-38

    RF 1953-3

  • The Musée National Eugène-Delacroix

Practical information

Location:
Musée Eugène-Delacroix
6, rue de Furstenberg
75006 Paris
Tel.: +33 (0)1 44 41 86 50

Getting there - Metro:
Alight at Saint-Germain-des-Prés station (line 4) or Mabillon station (line 10).

Opening hours:
Open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Tuesdays
Closed on the following holidays: January 1, May 1, December 25