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Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art

19 February, 2016

 «“I dislike reasonable painting» Eugène Delacroix

Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art, the first major presentation of Delacroix’s art in Britain for more than 50 years, surveys his dynamic career and then moves beyond it, to assess for the first time the influence he exerted for five decades following his death until the early years of the 20thcentury.

Few artists have had the same impact and lasting influence as Eugène Delacroix. He was the most famous and controversial French painter of the first half of the 19th century and one of the first modern masters. Each new work he exhibited was scrutinised by enthralled contemporaries including Courbet, Chassériau, and the poet and critic Charles Baudelaire. Following Delacroix’s death in 1863, generations of artists continually turned to him to find new directions for their art. Although idolised as a pioneer by artists such as Manet, Cézanne, Renoir, Van Gogh, and Matisse – unlike theirs, his name is not a household one today.

This exhibition will give visitors the opportunity to (re)discover this revolutionary artist. It will include over 60 works borrowed from 30 major public and private collections around the world, including the Musée du Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and the Petit Palais (Paris), the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the National Gallery of Art (Washington), and the Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam).

Eugène Delacroix Combat of the Giaour and Hassan, 1835 Oil on canvas 73.7 x 61 cm Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris (PDUT 01162) © Roger-Viollet / REX
Eugène Delacroix The Death of Sardanapalus (reduced replica), 1846 Oil on canvas 73.7 x 82.4 cm © Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, 1986 (1986-26-17)
Eugène Delacroix Bathers, 1854 Oil on canvas 92.7 x 77.5 cm © Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund, 1952.300
Henri Matisse The Red Carpet (Le Tapis rouge), 1906 Oil on canvas 89 x 116 cm Musée de Grenoble Agutte-Sembat Bequest © Succession H. Matisse/ DACS 2015; photo © Musée de Grenoble
Paul Gauguin I Raro Te Oviri (Under the Pandanus), 1891 Oil on canvas 73.7 × 91.4 cm © The Minneapolis Institute of Art The William Hood Dunwoody Fund, 41.4
Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890) Olive Trees, 1889 Oil on canvas 73.7 x 92.7 cm © The Minneapolis Institute of Art The William Hood Dunwoody Fund 51.7

More than a third of the exhibition comprises a survey of works by Delacroix himself. Highlights include such masterpieces as his Self-Portrait of about 1837 (Musée du Louvre, Paris); The Convulsionists of Tangiers of 1838 (Minneapolis Institute of Art); The Death of Sardanapalus, 1846 (Philadelphia Museum of Art); Bathers of 1854 (Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut); and the ferocious Lion Hunt of 1861 (Art Institute of Chicago).

Half the exhibition comprises works by artists of later generations who also fell under the impact of Delacroix’s achievement. Chassériau’s art in particular would not have been possible without the example of the older master. Among the masterpieces are Bazille’s rarely seen La Toilette (Musée Fabre, Montpellier), Van Gogh’s Pietà (after Delacroix)  (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam), Olive Trees (Minneapolis Institute of Art), Cézanne’s Battle of Love (National Gallery of Art, Washington), Apotheosis of Delacroix (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), and Matisse’s Study for ‘Luxe, calme et volupté’ (Museum of Modern Art, New York). The exhibition ends with Kandinsky’s Study for Improvisation V of 1910 (Minneapolis Institute of Art), arguing for a direct line of descent extending from the Romantic master to the origins of abstraction.

The complex and rebellious artist whom Baudelaire called ‘a poet in painting’ was the very model of the bohemian, driven by personal vision and unafraid of official opposition. Delacroix is credited with liberating colour and technique from traditional rules and practices, paving the way for new styles of painting. His use of vigorous and expressive brushstrokes, his study of the optical effect of colour, his daring compositions and exotic subjects inspired the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Symbolists, and Fauves to push the boundaries of their own creativity. All these admirers saw in Delacroix’s trailblazing vibrancy of colour and vivid portrayal of human emotions the impetus to break the rules and to dare to innovate and experiment with their own work. “Delacroix was passionately in love with passion, but coldly determined to express passion as clearly as possible” (Baudelaire).

In the following video, listen to the curator Cristopher Riopelle introducing the exhibition.


19 February, 2016
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The National Gallery
Trafalgar Square,
London, WC2N 5DN United Kingdom
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