My current work in progress – Chiaroscuro – was inspired by and features the French painter Eugene Delacroix. I love visiting art galleries and have been lucky enough to visit the National Gallery, Tate Modern and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. So I was thrilled when I found out that the National Gallery currently has an exhibition of Delacroix’s work, focussing on his influence on modern art.
So on Easter Monday my husband, son and I went off to London. I’m very lucky that my son shares my love of art and isn’t above accompanying me to galleries. Plus my daughter, who has no interest at all, was on a college trip to the Belizean rain forest (much more her thing) so I didn’t have to feel guilty about leaving her out!
The exhibition was amazing. I know it might sound over the top, but to actually see Delacroix’s paintings in front of me was truly awe-inspiring. And to learn how he was so influential on so many artist who came after him, many of who are certainly more well-known than he is, was really interesting. I don’t know many other people who count Delacroix as their favourite artist, so it was heartening to know that I wasn’t alone and that he was held in such high esteem by artists of the calibre of Renoir, Van Gough, Cezanne, Picasso and Signac, to name but a few; I felt in very good company!
Delacroix is known for his lavish use of colour, but it truly isn’t until you are actually standing in front of his work that you can really appreciate just what that means. And while the paintings by others accompanying his were by artists considered geniuses in their own right, for me their works paled in comparison. As you moved from room to room, it was the Delacroixs that stood out, that captured your eyes and imagination.
The most touching part of the exhibition came at the end though. The wall outside the exhibition is adorned with a print of Henri Fantin-Latour’s ‘Homage to Delacroix’. Fantin-Latour painted this tribute to give Delacroix the recognition, the respect and the admiration that had more or less eluded him in his lifetime. Artists and writers, among them Whistler, Manet, Baudelaire and Fantin-Latour himself, cluster around a portrait of Delacroix – if the critics had not liked him, his contemporaries and those that followed certainly did. And as the exhibition shows, Delacroix’s influence was far-reaching and long-lived. Indeed, Picasso’s ‘The Women of Algiers’ painted in 1955 was one of a series of his variations on Old Masters and was a take on Delacroix’s magnificent painting of 1834. Picasso’s painting sold in 2015 for $179 million, causing a bit of a sensation. Delacroix’s original never made nearly as much, but caused a sensation because of its subject matter and its sexual connotations. And while I admire the Picasso, having seen Delacroix’s amazing painting in reality, I know which I prefer.
The exhibition is at the National Gallery until 22nd May.