The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix, 1798-1863

Nationality: French
Date of Birth: 1798.04.26
Place of Birth: Charenton St Maurice
Date of Death: 1863.08.13
Place of Death: Paris


Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix was a painter, draughtsman and lithographer. His father, Charles Delacroix, was for a short time Ministre des Affaires Etrangères and later Préfet de la Gironde. When Delacroix was born, he was Ministre Plénipotentiaire at The Hague. His mother, Victoire Oeben, was the daughter of the cabinetmaker Jean-François Oeben. His step-grandfather, Jean-Henri Riesener, was also a cabinet-maker, and his mother's half-brother was the painter Henri-François Riesener, a pupil of David.


Delacroix studied at the Lycée Imperial in Paris, then in the studio of Pierre Guérin alongside Théodore Géricault, and following this at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He spent much time as a student copying the paintings of Raphael, Titian, Veronese and Rubens in the Louvre. At the Salon of 1822 he made his début with The Barque of Dante (Louvre, Paris). His subsequent paintings, inspired by contemporary events as well as by the critical writings of Goethe and Schiller and the dramatic works of Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron, brought him critical recognition and official patronage. Rejecting the austere neoclassicism of the school of David, Delacroix epitomised the great Romantic artist with his penchant for violent exotic subject matter, vibrant colour and energy of execution.

When JW arrived in Paris in November 1855 he was in time to view the thirty five canvases by Delacroix being shown at the French Pavilion of the Exposition Universelle. JW may also have seen Delacroix's lithographs on display in the Musée du Luxembourg at this date. The writings of Charles Baudelaire and Théophilé Thoré encouraged JW to study the works of Delacroix in which the formal aspects of design (colour, texture and brushwork) were in many ways of greater importance than subject matter.

In 1864 JW paid tribute to Delacroix, who had died the previous year, by posing in Henri Fantin-Latour's Homage à Delacroix (1864, Musée d'Orsay, Paris) alongside Baudelaire, Edouard Manet, Felix Bracquemond, Jules Champfleury, Edmond Duranty and Jules Antoine Castagnary, grouped around an oil portrait of Delacroix.

JW shared Delacroix's interest in the East, and in 1864 he painted a number of works inspired by the art of Japan that show a similar concern for colour and patterning. However, unlike Delacroix who visited North Africa in 1832, JW did not seek to authenticize his vision by travelling to the Far East. Works like Delacroix's Woman of Algiers in their Apartment (1834), also possibly inspired JW as images of languorous females in interior boudoir settings, a theme JW took up in paintings such as Symphony in White, No. 3 (YMSM 61).


Johnson, L., Delacroix, London, 1963; Johnson, L., The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix: A Critical Catalogue, 6 vols, Oxford, 1981-89; Wilson-Smith, T., Delacroix: A Life, London, 1992; Dorment, Richard, and Margaret F. MacDonald (eds), James McNeill Whistler, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London, 1994; Harrison, Colin, 'Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 16 October 2002).