Eugène Delacroix was born in Charenton-Saint-Maurice, France, on April 26, 1798. He received his artistic training in Paris and became known as a leading figure of the French Romantic era of the 19th century. Inspired by history, literature and exotic locales, Delacroix painted such famous works as "Liberty Leading the People" and "The Death of Sardanapalus." He died in Paris on August 13, 1863.
Early Years and Education
Ferdinand-Eugène-Victor Delacroix was born on April 26, 1798, in Charenton-Saint-Maurice, France. His father, Charles, was a minister of foreign affairs and served as a governmental prefect in Marseilles and Bordeaux. His mother, Victoire Oeben, was a cultured woman who encouraged young Delacroix’s love of literature and art.
Delacroix’s father died when he was 7 years old, and his mother passed away when he was 16. He attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris but left school to begin his artistic studies. Sponsored by a helpful and well-connected uncle, he joined the studio of the painter Pierre-Narcisse Guérin. In 1816, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts. Delacroix also made many visits to the Louvre, where he admired the paintings of such Old Masters as Titian and Rubens.
Early Public Recognition
Many of Delacroix’s early paintings had religious subjects. However, the first work he exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salon, “Dante and Virgil in Hell” (1822), took its inspiration from literature.
For other works of the 1820s, Delacroix turned to recent historical events. His interest in the Greek War of Independence, and his distress at the atrocities of that war, led to “The Massacre at Chios” (1824) and “Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi” (1826).
Even at this early stage of his career, Delacroix was fortunate enough to find buyers for his work. He was hailed as a central figure in the Romantic era of French art, along with Théodore Géricault and Antoine-Jean Gros. Like these other painters, he portrayed subjects fraught with extreme emotion, dramatic conflicts and violence. Often inspired by history, literature and music, he worked with bold colors and free brushwork.
Major Works of Romanticism
Delacroix continued to impress the critics and his clients with works such as “Death of Sardanapalus” (1827), a decadent scene of a defeated Assyrian king preparing to commit suicide. One of his most famous paintings was “Liberty Leading the People,” a response to the July Revolution of 1830, in which a woman holding a French flag leads a band of fighters from all social classes. It was purchased by the French government in 1831.
After traveling to Morocco in 1832, Delacroix returned to Paris with new ideas for his art. Paintings such as “The Women of Algiers in Their Apartment” (1834) and “Moroccan Chieftain Receiving Tribute” (1837) defined his Romantic interest in exotic subjects and faraway lands. He also continued to paint scenes borrowed from the work of his favorite authors, including Lord Byron and Shakespeare, and he was commissioned to paint several rooms at the Palais Bourbon and the Palace of Versailles.
Later Life and Works
From the 1840s onward, Delacroix spent more time in the countryside outside Paris. He enjoyed friendships with other well-known cultural figures such as the composer Frédéric Chopin and the author George Sand. In addition to his literary subjects, he produced flower still lifes and multiple paintings titled “The Lion Hunt.”
Delacroix’s last major commission was a set of murals for the Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. They include “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel,” a scene of intense physical combat between two figures in a dark forest. This commission occupied Delacroix throughout the 1850s and into the following decade. He died on August 13, 1863, in Paris.
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