Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Draftsmanship of Eugène Delacroix

Eugène Delacroix (1798 - 1863), Lion Lying on His Side, Lion couché sur le flanc
pastel on paper, 3 3/4 x 8 in. (9.8 x 20.3 cm), Private Collection
On view at the exhibition Eugène Delacroix Drawings, Watercolors, Pastels, 
and Small Oils, Jill Newhouse Gallery, New York, October 16 - November 20, 2018
Photo:  Courtesy of Jill Newhouse Gallery


When the French artist Eugène Delacroix (1798 - 1863) died, he left thousands of drawings in his workshop.  These were relatively unknown to the public while he was alive.  They consist of studies, plans for projects, sketches, copies of old masters' works, doodles and more.  These artworks provide an insight into the artist's learning and creative process.  

New York presently has an abundance of Delacroix works.  There are two exhibitions at the  Metropolitan Museum of Art.  One is a comprehensive retrospective and the other a selection of over 100 works on paper from the Karen B. Cohen collection of Delacroix drawings.  Also on display is a Delacroix painting from a private collection at Richard L. Feigen & Co..  It can be seen in the gallery's show Richard Parkes Bonington (1802 - 1828), Delacroix's friend and companion who tutored him in the art of watercolor.  

The most intimate viewing experience, however, can be enjoyed at the Jill Newhouse Gallery.  Some 40 works in a variety of media and subject matter are presented in Eugène Delacroix Drawings, Watercolors, Pastels, and Small Oils.  


The Jill Newhouse exhibit offers an excellent introduction into the artist's interests and the diverse materials he explored throughout his prolific career.  The show is well organized into six groups:  Figures, Portraits, Écorchés; Trip to Morocco and Spain, 1832; Drawings after Old Masters; Drawings in Preparation for other Projects; Animals; Landscapes and Architectural Studies.  

This first section includes male and female nudes.  Delacroix worked from both live models and  stock photographs of nudes that were sold to artists for use in their practice.  For the écorché drawings, renderings of the body's musculature without skin, artists commonly worked from cadavers although écorché sculptures made from materials such as wax, plaster or wood were available in addition to illustrations in anatomical treatises.  Delacroix is known to have drawn from corpses. These images may appear gruesome but were typical artistic exercises used to enhance the understanding of the body's structure and subsequently improve the ability to depict the human form.    One study (catalogue # 6) in pen and brown ink over traces of pencil and brown wash,  illustrates how Delacroix varied the thickness of his brush strokes, ink amounts, shades of washes and hatching (parallel lines for tonal effects) to render a leg and arm muscle.  The drawing appears almost abstract with lines that are activated and seem alive, stretching into forms although they describe something lifeless.


Eugène Delacroix (1798 - 1863), Military Chief ben Abou in a Moroccan Interior
Le Caïd  ben Abou chief Militaire dans un Intérieur dans maison Morocaine, 1832
 watercolor  on paper, 5 3/8 x 8 1/2 in. (13.9 x 20.7 cm), signed lower left
On view at the exhibition Eugène Delacroix Drawings, Watercolors, Pastels, 
and Small Oils, Jill Newhouse Gallery, New York, October 16 - November 20, 2018
Photo:  Courtesy of Jill Newhouse Gallery


In 1832, Delacroix went to Morocco with a diplomatic mission as the official artist.  For about six months he traveled in North Africa with a stopover in Spain, filling seven notebooks with drawings and watercolors of figures, costumes, architecture and the accoutrements of Moroccan life.  Four watercolors and one pen and ink drawing in the exhibit relate to this trip.   Military Chief ben Abou is portrayed in a Moroccan interior seated in a relaxed pose on a patterned floor. His left hand rests on a cushion and his weapons hang on the wall.  On his right, a wall cabinet with one wooden door open reveals everyday functional vessels.  On the floor to his right is a raised tray on which rests an ewer and near it a small bowl or cup.  On the same side near the sheet's edge there is a chest partially covered by what appears to be some kind of full-length, cloak-like garment. A colorful cushion, a small chest and  a leopard skin fill the right foreground.  Leopards were hunted in Morocco as sport well into the 20th century.  The scene was unlike anything that the artist would encounter in his contemporary French society.

Delacroix made the watercolor over pencil view of Algeciras, Spain (catalogue # 10) while on a sailing ship.    Algeciras, a large port city on the Bay of Gibraltar, links Spain to Africa.  The artist proficiently manipulates the medium to capture the different textures of sea, sky and land.  For the city with its white Moorish architecture, he left an irregular area of  the paper dry and simply dabbed touches of color for windows, doors and roofs.  Watercolor was a medium Delacroix excelled in although it was unpopular in 19th-century France.  



Eugène Delacroix (1798 - 1863), Figures after Goya's Caprices
Feuille d'études d'après Les Caprices de Goya
 pen and brown ink with wash on paper, 
8 7/8 x 13 1/2 in. (22.6 x 34.5 cm)
On view at the exhibition Eugène Delacroix Drawings, Watercolors, Pastels, and Small Oils,
Jill Newhouse Gallery, New York, October 16 - November 20, 2018
Photo:  Courtesy of Jill Newhouse Gallery

The study of old masters was central to Delacroix's development.  He spent hours looking and sketching in the Louvre which presented an abundance of masterpieces to work from.  He also drew from sculptures, paintings and decorations in their original locations as well as from prints of original art by old masters.  When Delacroix was a student in 1816, he registered with the Print Room at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.  Through prints, he studied and learned from such artists as Raphael (1483 -1520), Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640) and Rembrandt (1606 - 1669).  When he copied, which he never lost interest in doing, he selected parts not the whole of the original to reproduce.

A good example is Delacroix's ink and wash sketch of figures from two prints by Francisco de Goya (1746 -1828).  The Goya prints were part of an 80 plate etching and aquatint series called Los Caprichos published in 1799, criticizing the foibles of humanity.  Delacroix had a sizable print collection and probably owned a set of the series.  In the sketch, he copies figures from two prints on one sheet concentrating on the tones and contours of the Goya originals.  On the left, two figures are reproduced from plate 31, She prays for her:  the seated young woman baring her leg and her attendant combing her hair.  In the original print, Goya had depicted an old, wrinkled-faced woman clutching rosary beads crouched behind the young woman. Delacroix eliminated the older woman's upper body but kept her lower dress seen between the young lady's legs.  He also included the bowl and vase of the Goya print.  

On the sheet's right side, Delacroix represents the woman in Goya's plate 32, Because she was susceptible. This plate was the only one of the series done solely in aquatint resulting in an image without any hard-edged lines akin to a watercolor.   It portrays a woman in prison and was based on an actual scandal that took place at that time.  It was about a woman who had been convicted of helping her lover kill her husband. She was executed.  Delacroix redraws the doomed woman who lies on the ground with legs outstretched before her and her back leaning against the cell's wall. With eyes closed and mouth slightly open, she appears despondent.  Her feet and what looks like a bunch of grapes are sketched on the lower part of the sheet and a blotch of wash on the upper left.  



Eugène Delacroix (1798 - 1863), St. Sebastian Tended by the Holy Women
St. Sébastien secouru par les Saintes Femmes,  1852 - 1854, 
pastel on paper, 7 1/8 x 10 3/8 in. (18.1 x 26.4 cm)
Inscribed in ink on the back:  
Donné par moi à Jenny Leguillou / le 25 mars 1855 / Eug Delacroix
On view at the exhibition Eugène Delacroix Drawings, Watercolors, Pastels, and Small Oils,
Jill Newhouse Gallery, New York, October 16 - November 20, 2018
Photo:  Courtesy of Jill Newhouse Gallery

The large oil on canvas Saint Sebastian Tended by the Holy Women, 1836, Church of Saint-Michel, Nantua, France, is one of Delacroix's most acclaimed paintings and is presently on view in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Delacroix retrospective.  The painting's figures are enormous - the saint's foot alone is about 11 1/2 by 5 inches.  Sebastian was a Roman soldier who was shot with arrows for his Christian beliefs. Delacroix represented the moments after Sebastian's torture when a woman tenderly removes the arrows from his body.  The position of Sebastian and the way the three figures take up most of the pictorial space was derived from Rubens's Lamentation over the Dead Christ, c. 1612, Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna.  


As was his practice, Delacroix made preparatory studies for, as well as studies after, his work.  Seven smaller variants of the Saint Sebastian painting exist, done between 1836 and 1858.  The pastel at Jill Newhouse Gallery is particularly beautiful.  Delacroix probably thought this variation one of his best for he gave it to his housekeeper and lover Jenny.


Pastels, like watercolors, were not much admired in France at his time. Yet, Delacroix pursued the medium.  He developed a technique to keep the intensity, lucidity and brightness of hues which would have been reduced using the conventional method of blending colors. Delacroix did not blend.  He placed individual strokes close together so that the eye combined colors.  This handling anticipated the methods of the Impressionists.  

The pastel on paper Lion Lying on His Side, Lion couché sur le flanc, is a superb illustration of his proficiency.  The work also demonstrates the artist's keen observation skills.  The lion  is so realistically rendered, viewers may expect the feline's chest to move as the animal breathes. His soft fur and relaxed pose attests to Delacroix's familiarity with the subject. Indeed, the artist made numerous visits to the zoo in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris with its variety of animals and species.  He records his joy for the time he spent there in his journals.  In one entry, he writes about the coloration of lions.  He notes the differentiation of browns throughout the body "light tones noticeably under the stomach, under the paws...The color of the ears are brown but only on the outside."* Color annotations sometimes appear on sketches such as on one 1841 lion study (A Lion, Full Face, August 30, 1841, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Delacroix drawing show) which indicates "lighter brown" near the nose and "slightly brown" for the mane.

Eugène Delacroix (1798 - 1863), Four Studies of the Head of a Lioness
Etudes de Tête de Lionnes,  1852 - 1854, 
pencil and watercolor on paper, 11 x 8 in. (28.2 x 20.6 cm)
Estate sale stamp lower right:  Lugt 838a
On view at the exhibition Eugène Delacroix Drawings, Watercolors, Pastels, and Small Oils,
Jill Newhouse Gallery, New York, October 16 - November 20, 2018
Photo:  Courtesy of Jill Newhouse Gallery

Whether on large oil canvases or small works on paper, Delacroix's animals have an anthropomorphic quality that enhances their realism and encourages spectator's empathy. Just take a look at the expressive faces on the sketch with four studies of a lioness's head.  A critic once wrote that Delacroix "...never painted a man who looks like a man in the way his tigers look like a tiger."  


Eugène Delacroix (1798 - 1863), Sheet of Studies of Horses, a Moroccan Man in a Turban,
and a Landscape Drawing on Stationary from the French Ministry of the Interior
Feuille d'études de chevaux, tête d'oriental, nu féminin et passage exécuté 
sur papier du Ministère de l'Intérieur
pen and brown ink on paper, 9 1/4 x 7 1/8 in. (23.8 x 18.2 cm)
On view at the exhibition Eugène Delacroix Drawings, Watercolors, Pastels, and Small Oils,
Jill Newhouse Gallery, New York, October 16 - November 20, 2018  
Photo:  Courtesy of Jill Newhouse Gallery

Delacroix never ceased to draw and would tend to fill a sheet with sketches often unrelated and drawn at different times.  One piece of stationary he took from the French Ministry of the Interior is covered with with delightful sketches:  three heads of horses, the back of a female nude, a small water scene of a fisherman and passenger in a skiff and the head, arm and upper back of a turbaned man.  Delacroix had turned the paper counterclockwise to make the seascape and clockwise to draw the man in a turban.  If the sheet is upright, the man's arm, shoulder and back appear as decorative doodles but if rotated to the right, the scribbles are seen correctly as the man's  upper back, left shoulder and arm.

Although the gallery has made available the show's fully illustrated catalogue on their Web site, the works should be experienced first hand. Digital images cannot replicate the quality of confronting artworks directly.  This is especially true of works on paper.  Go see the exhibit.

*Delacroix journal entry June 7, 1855

Eugène Delacroix Drawings, Watercolors, Pastels, and Small Oils
October 16 - November 20, 2018
4 East 81st Street, Manhattan
Hours:  
Monday - Friday 10:00 am  - 5:30 pm

Delacroix
September 17, 2018 - January 6, 2019
1000 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan
Hours:  
Open Seven Days a Week
Sunday – Thursday 10:00 am – 5:30 pm
Friday and Saturday 10:00 am – 9 pm
Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, January 1, and the first Monday in May.


Devotion to Drawing:  
The Karen B. Cohen Collection of Eugène Delacroix
July 17 - November 11, 2018
1000 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan
Hours:  
Open Seven Days a Week
Sunday – Thursday 10:00 am – 5:30 pm
Friday and Saturday 10:00 am – 9 pm
Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, January 1, and the first Monday in May.


Richard Parkes Bonington
October 23 - December 18, 2018
16 East 77th street, Manhattan
Hours:
Monday - Friday 10:00 am  - 5:00 pm

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