Coming close to the cages of wild predators to watch them, but being afraid of small children. Spending day and night having absorbing conversations with friends, and then upbraiding himself for the time wasted. Stoically withstanding his enemies' wrath and yet being unable to resist the heat of passion. Delacroix was compared to a volcanic crater artistically concealed beneath bouquets of flowers.
Delacroix was a regular visitor to the zoo. His spending days at the predators' cages caused a real shock and bewildered whisperings of French artists, who had been painting animals from plaster models for several centuries. Delacroix visited the Botanical Garden, where the zoo was situated, almost every day. He was obsessed with tigers and lions, felt an inexplicable connection with these wild predators, like the ancient tribes – with totemic animals.
Yet, he wasn't alone in his passion to visit the Botanical Garden. The animalier (sculptor of animals) Antoine-Louis Barye, the sluggish, taciturn, big Norman lubber, and Eugène Delacroix, the delicate, short, nervous and elegant Parisian, put everything aside and ran to the zoo beside each other, when there appeared news of a new purchase or the death of some animal (which was a great luck).
Messengers tore along to deliver the artist's speed letter to the sculptor: "To Antoine-Louis Barye, passage Sainte-Marie. The lion is dead – make haste. The weather forces us to act. I'll wait for you there. In great friendship, Eug. Delacroix."
When the animal died, which rarely happened, they had to be on time to watch skinning. Then there was a unique opportunity to draw an écorché – anatomical figure depicting a skinned animal to show its muscles. Barye returned to the workshop and sculpted the relief, tense bodies of the fighting animals while Delacroix came to his studio and painted endless scenes of the battles between tigers and horses, as well as lions torturing their prey.
Delacroix conducted advertising campaigns of his own paintings. Note that a lot of the artist's friends involved with writing were impressed by his emotional and energetic personal style. Delacroix was 52 years old when he got one of the most grandiose commissions from the state: a painting decorating the ceiling of the Galerie d'Apollon in the Louvre. When the work was completed, Delacroix sent invitations to his friends to come and see his new Louvre painting. The invitation also included a graphic description of the fresco:
"Mounted upon his chariot, the god has already shot a portion of his arrows; his sister Diana is flying at his heels and holding his quiver out to him. Already transfixed by the shafts of the god of warmth and life, the bloody monster writhes as it breathes forth the last remnants of its life and impotent rage in a flaming cloud. The waters of the flood are beginning to run dry, leaving the bodies of men and animals upon the mountain-tops, or sweeping them away with it. The gods are wrathful to see the earth abandoned to misshapen monsters, foul products of the primeval slime. Like Apollo, they have taken up arms; Minerva and Mercury leap forth to their destruction, until the time comes for eternal Wisdom to repeople the solitude of the universe. Hercules is crushing them with his club; Vulcan, the god of fire, is driving the night and the foul mists before him, while Boreas and the Zephyrs dry up the waters with their breath and finally dispel the clouds. The nymphs of the rivers and the streams have regained their reedy bed and their urn, still soiled by filth and debris. A few of the more timid divinities are standing aside and watching this combat between the gods and the elements. Meanwhile from the summit of the heavens Victory is flying down to crown Apollo the conqueror, and Iris, the messenger of the gods, is unfolding her veil in the airs – a symbol of the triumph of light over darkness and the revolt of the waters."
Delacroix didn't like children. Being high-strung, sickly, fragile and vulnerable, Delacroix seemed to be constantly making choices: what to spend his poor stamina for, and what can be fatal to spend it for. In time, even fleeting affairs and passionate dates weren't on the list of pleasures the artist allowed himself. There remained only his closest friends and work.
Children had never been put on that list either. Children were dirty hands that would spoil his paper and canvases. Children were drums, toots and loud crying, too distracting and exhausting. Romantic Delacroix was sure that every child is born with an enchanting set of uncontrollable passions – and only suffering, education and training of the mind made them a person fit for life with other people.
Delacroix was passionately in love and even thought about marriage. His chosen woman had everything one could dream about. Joséphine de Forget, born Lavalette, was the goddaughter of Joséphine Bonaparte and was involved in one legendary adventurous story. Her father, general de Lavalette held quite an important official position under Napoleon and, without hesitation, joined the emperor during his brief return. When the "hundred days" ended, the general was sentenced to death. 12-year-old Joséphine and her mother arranged an elegant escape for the prisoner. They came to say goodbye and, bursting into tears, quickly disguised the general in his wife's dress. Embracing his daughter and sobbing, the disguised Lavalette left the prison without anyone noticing.
The adult Joséphine was freedom-loving and independent, lived separately from her husband, and soon became a widow, elegant, rich, balanced, adoring music, flowers and Delacroix. Their relationship, intimacy, at first passionate and frantic, and then – gentle and friendly, lasted until the end of the artist's life.
Joséphine's descendants, blushing with shame and indignation, burned Delacroix's letters addressed to her. Biographers chose the most chaste passages from those few letters which survived. For example, the one in which Delacroix thanked Joséphine for the plaster cast of her hand, received as a present: "Now I have your hand, which I love dearly. I should also make a cast of something for you to think about when I'm away. Come here, let's choose which part to make my cast of together!" It is not known whether the artist really made that cast, but, preserving independence and saving strength only for art, Delacroix never proposed to Joséphine.
1.2. Eugène Delacroix. Self-Portrait
Eugène Delacroix and Dominique Ingres hated each other for many years. The organizers of the Exposition Universelle of 1855 in Paris were well aware of the upcoming scandal and yet could do nothing about it. The two most powerful talents, two geniuses, Delacroix and Ingres, were equally worthy of large expositions at the forthcoming exhibition. Therefore, both of them were decided to participate. Ingres, his drawings and lines were supported by the whole Academy. Delacroix, his colours, movement and storm – by all famous writers.
Shortly before the exhibition, both artists were invited to a dinner party. Delacroix was gloomy and silent. Ingres was nervous, angry and kept throwing irritated glances at his enemy. Having broken down, he brusquely went up to Delacroix and said to him: "Drawing, sir, drawing is honesty! Drawing, sir, drawing is honor!" In his agitation the cup of coffee capsized and poured over his shirt. Ingres ran out of the hall, muttering: "This is too much! I will not let myself be insulted any longer." Delacroix showed admirable restraint.
When the paintings of both artists were being hung before the Exposition Universelle, Delacroix looked into the hall of Ingres to greet the artist. "Open the windows! I smell sulfur!" – Ingres yelled when his hateful opponent left the room.
Delacroix was a brilliant interlocutor. Well-educated, impeccably courteous, reserved and attentive, he could straightaway warn his guest: "Do you mind if we don't talk today? Or just a little bit." And then spent several hours talking. At the same time, he considered long conversations a kind of surfeit such as a hearty elaborate meal, a prolonged sleep or a long formal banquet.
Charles Baudelaire, Delacroix's close friend and passionate admirer, published an essay immediately after the artist's death, stating: "He had a good twenty ways of saying 'Mon cher monsieur', in which a practised ear could detect a remarkable scale of feelings." It could be 'Mon cher monsieur' with a sense of affection and amiability or 'Mon cher monsieur' with a touch of frightening audacity.
His favourite interlocutors had always been his ardent opponents – either in philosophical questions or in views on art. However, at the most tense moments, when the dispute was going to turn into a crude, uncontrollable quarrel, the artist would freeze and temporarily take the heat out of his own statements. A few minutes later, having calmed down and got his thoughts in order, he would give his opponent an emotional speech, full of arguments and facts.
A few hours before his death, Delacroix asked to call for Paul Chenavard, an artist who had been creating historical and allegorical paintings all his life and had been Delacroix's favourite interlocutor for many years. Chenavard considered pure painting, devoid of moral or heroic pathos, almost dangerous. Before his death, Delacroix wanted to shake hands with him.
Cover photo: Eugène Delacroix, 1842.
Author: Anna Sidelnikova