REVIEW: Delacroix vs Goya, battle of the dramatics

round 2 – DELACROIX

French painter Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) and Spaniard Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) are utterly distinctive artists, comparable in their contrasts. Each applied extraordinary imaginations to dramatic often violent subject matter, juxtaposing images and colours to excite and disturb.

Eugène Delacroix - A self-portrait of the Artist, 1837In 1826, as self-imposed Spanish exile Francisco de Goya daubed dark demons on the walls of his Bordeaux home, an idealistic young Frenchman was causing a stir in Paris with his own visions of war. Unlike Goya, who spent a lifetime haunted by experiences he would rather forget, Eugène Delacroix went looking for drama.

Eugène Delacroix - The Shipwreck of Don Juan, 1840He found it in the cut and thrust of current affairs, in the Greek battle for independence from the Turks (Greece dying on the ruins of Missolonghi, 1826). He found it in literature, in Gothic novels such as Melmoth the Wanderer (The Public Confession, 1831) or in poems such as Lord Byron’s Don Juan (The Shipwreck of Don Juan, 1840).

Eugène Delacroix - Louis-Auguste Schwiter, 1826-30

He found it in individuality and creative genius, championing the insight of the Romantic artist, depicting him as humble and homely yet vibrant and passionate. Poet John Milton relates his 17th century epic poem Paradise Lost to his kids (1827), or Baron Louis-Auguste Schwiter is surprised having artistic thoughts in the bosom of nature (1826-30).

And, of course! he found it in women and politics, commemorating the 1830 July Revolution with his most famous painting; bare-breasted and magnificent La Liberté guidant le peuple.

Eugène Delacroix - Liberty Leading the People, 1830Such scenes may seem melodramatic, yet Delacroix’s brushwork was painstaking. He developed a technique in which one colour influenced another, amplifying emotion without compromising on authenticity. As contemporary critic Charles Baudelaire marvelled, Delacroix seemed “coldly determined to express passion as clearly as possible”.

Eugène Delacroix - Women of Algiers, 1834After travelling to North Africa in 1832, Delacroix painted exotic scenes that seem simultaneously cosy and domestic. In the sensuality of a harem (Women of Algiers in their Apartment, 1834) or in the whirling choreography of a marketplace (Fanatics of Tangier, 1838), Delacroix’s massive influence on Impressionist painters seems clear, they just had to stick in a paintbrush and stir. 

Eugène Delacroix - Fanatics of Tangier, 1838

Eugène Delacroix: the exhibition is on at Barcelona’s CaixaForum until May 20, 2012.

Francisco de Goya - A self-portrait of the Artist, 1771-75Click here to read about Spanish painter Francisco de Goya also at CaixaForum until June 24, 2012.

Thank you to: Mary Acton Learning to Look at Paintings (Routledge, 1997).