Eugène Delacroix

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They say that truth is naked. I cannot admit this for any but abstract truths; in the arts, all truths are produced by methods which show the hand of the artist.
'The barque of Dante' - 1822
'Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi' - 1827
'A young tiger playing with its mother' - 1830
'Frédéric Chopin' - 1838
'The Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople' - 1840
'Christ on the Cross' (sketch) - 1845
'The Agony in the Garden' - 1861

Eugène Delacroix (April 26 1798August 13 1863) was a French painter, one of the leading Romanticists of the nineteenth century.

Quotes[edit]

1815 - 1830[edit]

  • For a man who is sensitive to nature, happiness consists in expressing nature. How infinitely happy, then, is the man who reflects nature like a mirror without being aware of it, who does the thing for love of it and not from any pretensions to take first place. This noble unself-consciousness is what we find in all truly great men, in the founders of the arts. I picture the great Poussin, in his retreat, delighting in the study of the human heart.. ..I picture Raphael in the arms of his mistress, turning from La Fornarina to paint his Saint Cecilia.. ..I am only too well aware that I am far not only from their divine spirit, but even from their modest simplicity...
    • In: a letter to his friend J. B. Pierret - 23 October 1818, Forest of Boixe; as quoted in Eugene Delacroix – selected letters 1813 – 1863, ed. and transl. Jean Stewart, art Works MFA publications, Museum of Fine Art Boston, 2001, p. 43
  • …The movement and the rustle of the branches [in the forest, while losing his attention for chasing] delights me. The clouds float past and I lift my head to follow their flight, or think about some madrigal, when a slight sound, which has been going on for a little while, rouses me slowly from my dream.; at least I turn my head and see, to my grief, a little white scut just disappearing into the thicket...
    • In: a letter to his friend Achille Peron - 16 September 1819, Paris; as quoted in Eugene Delacroix – selected letters 1813 – 1863, ed. and translation Jean Stewart, art Works MFA publications, Museum of Fine Art Boston, 2001, p. 51
  • I must try to live austerely, as Plato did.. ..I need to live a more solitary life.. ..Valuable ideas beyond number miscarry because I have no continuity in my thoughts.. ..The things which we experience for ourselves when we are on our own are stronger by far, and fresher... [his painting 'The Massacre at Chios' was half done when he wrote this note].
    • autobiographical note in his Journal, March 1824; as quoted in Eugene Delacroix – selected letters 1813 – 1863, ed. and translation Jean Stewart, art Works MFA publications, Museum of Fine Art Boston, 2001, p. 9
  • I have seen here [in London] a play on Faust, the most diabolic thing imaginable. The Mephistopheles is a masterpiece of caricature and intelligence. It is Goethe's 'Faust', but adapted; the principle features are preserved. They have made it into an opera mixed with comedy and with everything that is most sombre. The scene in the church is given with the priest's chanting and the organ in the distance. Impossible to carry an effect further, in the theater.
    • In a letter (written in London, England) to J. B. Pierret, 18 June 1825; as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 67
  • I am not doing very much as yet. I am put out by this manner of the Salon. They will end by persuading me that I have produced a veritable fiasco. But I am not yet entirely convinced of it. Some say it is a complete downfall; that the 'Death of Sardanaplus' [Delacroix painted this painting in 1827 after the drama, written by Byron] is that of the Romantics, inasmuch as Romantics do exist; others merely say that I am an 'inganno' [a fraud].. ..So I say they are all imbeciles, that the picture has its qualities and its defects, and that while there are some things I could wish to be better, there are not a few others that I think myself fortunate to have created, and which I wish them.
    • In: a letter to his friend Charles Soulier, 11 March 1828; as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, pp. 67-68
  • - I have started work on a modern subject, a scene on the barricades.. ..I may not have fought for my country but at least I shall have painted for her.. [quote is referring to his famous painting 'Liberty Leading the People', 1830]
    • In an unpublished letter to his brother, 18 October 1830, but mentioned by M. Sérullaz; as quoted in Eugene Delacroix – selected letters 1813 – 1863, ed. and translation Jean Stewart, art Works MFA publications, Museum of Fine Art Boston, 2001, p. 13

Journal (1822 – 1824)[edit]

The Journal of Eugene Delacroix : A Selection (1980) edited by Hubert Wellington, translated by Lucy Norton, Cornell University Press ISBN 0-8014-9196-7
  • The contour should come last, only a very experienced eye can place it rightly.
    • Introduction (p. xxiv)
  • Of late, men seem to have been possessed by an incomprehensible impulse to strip themselves of everything with which nature has endowed them in order to make them superior to the beasts of burden. A philosopher is a gentleman who sits down four times a day to the best meals he can possibly obtain, and who considers that virtue, glory and noble sentiments should be indulged in only when they do not interfere with those four indispensable functions and all the rest of his little personal comforts. At this rate, a mule is a better philosopher by far, because in addition to all this he puts up with blows and hardship without complaint.
    • 29 April 1824 (p. 35)
  • There is no merit in being truthful when one is truthful by nature, or rather when one can be nothing else; it is a gift, like poetry or music. But it needs courage to be truthful after carefully considering the matter, unless a kind of pride is involved; for example, the man who says to himself, "I am ugly," and then says, "I am ugly" to his friends, lest they should think themselves the first to make the discovery.
    • 6 June 1824 (p. 45)

1831 - 1863[edit]

  • ..that famous idea of 'beauty', which is, as everybody says, the goal of the arts. If it is their only goal, what becomes of the men like Rubens, Rembrandt, and all the northern natures generally, who prefer other qualities? Demand purity, In a word beauty.. .In general the men of the north tend less in that direction. The Italian prefers ornament. [quote in 1847]
    • as quoted in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 229
  • I see in painters prose writers and poets. Rhyme, measure, and the turning of verses, which is indispensable and which gives them so much vigor, are analogous to the hidden symmetry, to the equilibrium at once wise and inspired, which governs the meeting or separation of lines and spaces, the echoes of color, etc... ..but the beauty of verse does not consist of exactitude in obeying rules.. ..It resides in a thousand secret harmonies and conventions which make up the power of poetry and which go straight to the imagination; in just the same way the happy choice of forms and the right understanding of their relationship act on the imagination in the art of painting.
    • In: his Journal of 19 September 1847; as quoted in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 229
  • Criticism, like so many other things, keeps to what has been said before and does not get out of the rut. This business of the 'Beautiful' some see it in curved lines, some in straight lines, but all persist in seeing it as a matter of line. I am now looking out of my window and I can see the most lovely countryside; lines just do not come into my head: the lark is singing, the river sparkles with a thousand diamonds, the leaves are whispering; where, I should like to know, are the lines that produce delicious impressions like these? They refuse to see proportion or harmony except between two lines: all else they regard as chaos, and the dividers alone are judge.
    • In: a letter to Léon Peissse, 15 July 1949; as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 68
    • Delacroix's refusal to use the line as boundary of the form in his painting art, as a too sharp dividing force in the picture - in contrast to the famous classical painter in Paris then, Ingres.
  • If you make the light dominate too much, the breadth of the planes leads to the absence of half tints, and consequently to discoloration; the opposite abuse is harmful above all in big compositions destined to be seen from a distance, like ceilings, etc. In the latter form of painting, Paul Veronese goes beyond Rubens through the simplicity of his local color and his breadth in handling the light.. ..Veronese had greatly to strengthen his local color in order that it should not appear discolored when immunized by the very broad light he threw on it.
    • In his Journal of 1850; as quoted in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, pp. 230 – 231
  • How do things stand, now, if the subject contains a large element of pathos?.. ..Consider such an interesting subject as the scene taking place around the bed of a dying woman, for example; seize and render that ensemble by photography, if that is possible [photography was a very recent invention in Paris ca. 1853, a.o. by the photographer Nadar]: it will be falsified in a thousand ways. The reason is that, according to the degree of your imagination, the subject will appear to you more or less beautiful, you will be more or less the poet in that scene in which you are an actor; you see only what is interesting, whereas the instrument puts in everything.
    • his quote circa 1853, in which Delacroix relates painting to theater from the view of the visitor / spectator, in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 233
  • The original idea, the sketch, which is so to speak the egg or embryo of the idea, is usually far from being complete; it contains everything, which is simply a mixing together of all parts. Just the thing that makes of this sketch the essential expression of the idea is not the suppression of details, but their complete subordination to the big lines, which are, before all else, to create the impression. The greatest difficulty therefore is that of returning in the picture to that effacing of the details which, however, make up the composition, the web and the woof of the picture.
    • his quote in 1854, in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, pp. 234 – 235
  • He [Michelangelo] did not know a single one of the feelings of man, not one of his passions. When he was making an arm or a leg, it seems as if he were thinking only of that arm or leg and was not giving the slightest consideration to the way it relates with the action of the figure to which it belongs, much less to the action of the picture as a whole.. ..Therein lies his great merit; he brings a sense of the grand and the terrible into even an isolated limb.
    • his quote in 1854, on the Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo, in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 235
  • After leaving [the International Exposition in Paris, with a lot of new machines], I went to see Courbet’s exhibition; he has reduced the admission to ten cents. I stay there alone for nearly an hour and discover that the picture ['L’atélier' / the Painter's Studio - 1855] of his which they refused [for exposing on the official Salon in Paris] is a masterpiece; I simply could not tear myself away from the sight of it.
    • In his Journal of 3 August, 1855; as quoted in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 236
  • - I did not come to know part II of 'Faust' until long after I made my illustrations, and even then only very superficially. It struck me as an ill-digested work, of little interest from the literary standpoint, but among those most calculated to inspire a painter owing to the mixture of characters and styles it contains.. ..You asked what gave me the first idea of the Faust lithographs. I remember that about 1821 I saw the designs made by Retch [Retzsch] and found them rather striking; but it was above all the performance of a dramatic opera on Faust that I saw in London in 1825 which stirred me to do something on the subject. The actor.. ..was a perfect Mephistopheles; he was fat, but that in no way diminished his nimbleness and his Satanic character.
    • In a letter to Philippe Burty, 1 March 1862; as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 76
    • Delacroix describes the source of his series Faust lithographs

Journal (1847 – 1863)[edit]

The Journal of Eugene Delacroix : A Selection (1980) edited by Hubert Wellington, translated by Lucy Norton, Cornell University Press ISBN 0-8014-9196-7
  • The Natural History Museum is open to the public on Tuesdays and Fridays. Elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus; extraordinary animals! Rubens rendered them marvellously. I had a feeling of happiness as soon as I entered the place and the further I went the stronger it grew. I felt my whole being rise above commonplaces and trivialities and the petty worries of my daily life.
    • 19 January 1847 (p. 55)
Liberty Leading the People (1833)
  • I believe it safe to say that all progress must lead, not to further progress, but finally to the negation of progress, a return to the point of departure.
    • 23 April 1849 (p. 97)
  • Commonplace people have an answer for everything and nothing ever surprises them. They try to look as though they knew what you were about to say better than you did yourself, and when it is their turn to speak, they repeat with great assurance something that they have heard other people say, as though it were their own invention.
    • 25 February 1852 (p. 152)
  • Can any man say with certainty that he was happy at a particular moment of time which he remembers as being delightful? Remembering it certainly makes him happy, because he realizes how happy he could have been, but at the actual moment when the alleged happiness was occurring, did he really feel happy? He was like a man owning a piece of ground in which, unknown to himself, a treasure lay buried.
    • 28 April 1854 (p. 227)
  • The more I think about colour, the more convinced I become that this reflected half-tint is the principle that must predominate, because it is this that gives the true tone, the tone that constitutes the value, the thing that matters in giving life and character to the object. Light, to which the schools teach us to attach equal importance and which they place on the canvas at the same time as the half-tint and shadow, is really only an accident. Without grasping this principle, one cannot understand true colour, I mean the colour that gives the feeling of thickness and depth and of that essential difference that distinguishes one object from another.
    • 29 April 1854 (p. 228)
  • Perfect beauty implies perfect simplicity, a quality that at first sight does not arouse the emotions which we feel before gigantic works, objects whose very disproportion constitutes an element of beauty.
    • 7 September 1854 (p. 252)
The Abduction of Rebecca (1858)
  • They say that each generation inherits from those that have gone before; if this were so there would be no limit to man's improvements or to his power of reaching perfection. But he is very far from receiving intact that storehouse of knowledge which the centuries have piled up before him; he may perfect some inventions, but in others, he lags behind the originators, and a great many inventions have been lost entirely. What he gains on the one hand, he loses on the other.
    • 21 September 1854 (p. 256)
  • Delsarte tells me that Mozart stole outrageously from Galuppi, in the same way, I suppose, that Molière stole from anybody anywhere, if he found something work taking. I said that what was Mozart had not been stolen from Galuppi, or from anyone else for that matter.
    • 15 March 1855 (p. 270)
  • We should not allow ourselves to believe that writers like Poe have more imagination than those who are content with describing things as they really are. It is surely easier to invent striking situations in this way than to tread the beaten track which intelligent minds have followed throughout the centuries.
    • 6 April 1856 (p. 312)
  • We are told that Shakespeare's plays were generally performed in barns and that no great trouble was taken over the production. The constant changes of scene which, incidentally, seem the sign of a decadent art rather than one which is progressing, were shown by placards with the inscription: "A Forest," "A Prison," and so on. Within this conventional setting the onlooker's imagination was free to follow the actions of the various characters who were animated by passions drawn from nature, and that was enough for him. So-called innovations are gratefully seized on as an excuse for poverty of invention and in the same way, the long descriptive passages that so overburden modern novels are a sign of sterility, for it is obviously easier to describe a dress or the outward appearance of an object than to trace the subtle development of a character or portray the emotions of the heart.
    • 9 April 1856 (p. 313)
  • He [Titian] is the least mannered and consequently the most varied of artists. Mannered talents have but one bias, one usage only. They are more apt to follow the impulse of the hand than to control it. Those that are less mannered must be more varied, for they continually respond to genuine emotion.
    • 5 January 1857 (p. 326)
  • In every art we are always obliged to return to the accepted means of expression, the conventional language of the art. What is a black-and-white drawing but a convention to which the beholder has become so accustomed that with his mind's eye he sees a complete equivalent in the translation from nature?
    • 13 January 1857 (p. 334)
Jacob Wrestling the Angel (1861)
  • For his contemporaries, Racine was a romantic, but for every age he is classical, that is to say, he is faultless.
    • 13 January 1857 (p. 337)
  • Mythological subjects always new. Modern subjects difficult because of the absence of the nude and the wretchedness of modern costume.
    • 13 January 1857 (p. 338)
  • Painting, in the beginning, was a trade like any other. Some men became picture-makers as others became glaziers or carpenters. Painters painted shields, saddles and banners. The primitive painter was more of a craftsman than we are; he learned his trade superlatively well before he thought of letting himself go. The reverse is true today.
    • 13 January 1857 (p. 339)
  • Curiously enough, the Sublime is generally achieved through want of proportion.
    • 25 January 1857 (p. 345)
  • Nature creates unity even in the parts of a whole.
    • 25 January 1857 (p. 346)
  • The so-called conscientiousness of the great majority of painters is nothing but perfection laboriously applied to the art of being boring.
    • 25 January 1857 (p. 346)
  • They say that truth is naked. I cannot admit this for any but abstract truths; in the arts, all truths are produced by methods which show the hand of the artist.
    • 12 October 1859 (p. 388)
  • Weaknesses in men of genius are usually an exaggeration of their personal feeling; in the hands of feeble imitators they become the most flagrant blunders. Entire schools have been founded on misinterpretations of certain aspects of the masters. Lamentable mistakes have resulted from the thoughtless enthusiasm with which men have sought inspiration from the worst qualities of remarkable artists because they are unable to reproduce the sublime elements in their work.
    • 16 January 1860 (p. 391)

Quotes about Delacroix[edit]

  • Delacroix, lac de sang hanté des mauvaises anges,
    Ombragés par un bois de sapins toujours vert,
    Où, sous un ciel chagrin, des fanfares étranges
    Passent, comme un soupir étouffé de Weber.
    • Delacroix, blood lake, domain of evil angels,
      Encircled by fir trees, in depths of green darkness,
      Where, under wincing skies, such eerie fanfares drift,
      Like a smothered, love-lost sigh, an air of Weber.
  • Delacroix était passionnément amoureux de la passion, et froidement déterminé à chercher les moyens d'exprimer la passion de la manière la plus visible. Dans ce double caractère, nous trouvons, disons-le en passant, les deux signes qui marquent les plus solides génies, génies extrêmes.
    • Delacroix was passionately in love with passion, and coldly determined to seek the means of expressing passion in the most visible manner. In this dual character, be it said in passing, we find the two distinguishing marks of the most substantial geniuses, extreme geniuses.
    • Variant translation: Delacroix was passionately in love with passion, but coldly determined to express passion as clearly as possible.
      • As quoted in the Introduction to The Journal of Eugène Delacroix (1980), p. xiv
  • Eugène Delacroix was a curious mixture of skepticism, politeness, dandyism, willpower, cleverness, despotism, and finally, a kind of special goodness and tenderness that always accompanies genius.
  • Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix, a painter of noble lineage, who carried a sun in his head and storms in his heart; who for forty years played upon the keyboard of human passions, and whose brush— grandiose, terrifying or tender— passed from saints to warriors, from warriors to lovers, from lovers to tigers, and from tigers to flowers.
    • Théophile Silvestre, Les Artistes français, études d'après nature (1878)
  • His remains the finest palette in France and nobody in our country has possessed at once such calm and pathos, such shimmering color. We all paint in him.
  • This became Delacroix's theme: that the achievements of the spirit— all that a great library contained— were the result of a state of society so delicately balanced that at the least touch they would be crushed beneath an avalanche of pent-up animal forces.
Christ on the Sea of Galilee (1854)

External links[edit]

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