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Work Study for “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel”

Department of The Musée National Eugène-Delacroix

Study for “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel”, Eugène Delacroix

© RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Hervé Lewandowski

The Musée National Eugène-Delacroix

Author(s):
Marie-Christine Mégevand

Among the subjects Delacroix painted for the Chapel of the Holy Angels in Saint-Sulpice, Paris, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, which refers to  Chapter 32 of Genesis, is certainly one of the artist’s most powerful compositions. At first glance, it celebrates the beauty of nature with its huge trees and their twisted trunks, but its chief subject remains the strange pair of wrestlers in a struggle that symbolizes an aesthetic or spiritual quest, during which Jacob is injured but not defeated. In this final work, completed in 1861, Delacroix fights his last battle.


The genesis of an artwork

Although it was commissioned in 1849, the decoration for the chapel of Saint-Sulpice was interrupted by more urgent projects and was not completed until July 1861, two years before the artist’s death. The study in the Musée Delacroix was probably executed in 1850, when the painter wrote that he was working on “sketches for Saint-Sulpice to be submitted to the Prefecture” (Journal, February 27, 1850).


A frontal attack

Jacob’s frontal attack, the knee raised high, shows his absolute determination in combat: the final composition retains the same attacking movement. Delacroix uses quick, light pencil strokes to suggest an almost dance-like movement in which the Angel with the lightly sketched wings fends off the attack and wounds Jacob in the thigh. But he is far from evoking the serene, unwavering stability of the nameless Angel in the finished painting on the chapel wall, his wings held firmly upright in the long struggle through the night.


An aesthetic or spiritual battle

Throughout his life, Delacroix engaged in the artist’s solitary struggle, challenging his own creative powers and measuring them against his peers and—why not?—God the Creator in the guise of the Angel. Like Jacob on the night before crossing the ford of the River Jabbok, he is alone. Like the son of Isaac’s, his struggle is exalting: “Painting taunts and torments me in a thousand ways,” as he confided in his Journal on January 1, 1861 in the midst of his work on Saint-t Sulpice, “[…] things that seemed to be the easiest to overcome present appalling, interminable difficulties. How is it, then, that instead of casting me down, this eternal combat lifts me up, not discouraging, but consoling me?”

Bibliography

Maurice Sérullaz, Delacroix, Peintures murales, Paris, Ed. du Temps, 1963.
Joyce C. Polistena, “Nouvelles sources pour le cycle des peintures murales de Delacroix à Saint-Sulpice” in Bulletin de la Société des Amis du musée de Delacroix, 2009, n° 7, p.25-38.

Technical description

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

    Study for “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel”

    1850

  • Graphite

    H. 0.245 m; W. 0.325 m

  • Gift from Francis Gobin in memory of his father Maurice Gobin, 1997

    Lower left, stamps of the Darcy coll. and Gobin coll.
    Lower right, stamp of the Gobin coll.

    MD 1997-2

  • 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