This post is about a private, docent-led tour of: DELACROIX – this year’s massive blockbuster show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Wednesday, October 3rd at 3pm (tour starts at 3:15). Capacity will be limited to 25; tickets are $40 each. Sorry, no accommodation has been offered for MET members.
You know when the LOUVRE and the METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART decide to co-produce an exhibition that it’s a biggie. Such is the case with the once-in-a-lifetime exhibit on DELACROIX which opens this Fall. The last big Delacroix show was in 1963, the centenary of the artist’s death. Hmmm…. it’s time, don’t you think? In addition to the Met and the Louvre, works were lent to the show by museums in many other countries – Germany, Canada, Belgium, the UK, Hungary – and many of Delacroix’s most famous and provocative works are included. NOT included, however, are some of the massive works for which Delacroix was well known which had been featured at the Louvre because they were too gigantic to ship and hang.
So, yes, this exhibition is a big deal and reviews of the show in Paris positively gushed, as in this review from the FT, “If there is one exhibition worth traveling for this year, it is the Louvre’s gripping, spectacular survey of the most singular, contradictory, extreme artist of the 19th Century.” That would be Delcroix all right ! In fact, just to keep Delacroix’s political cred current, French President Macron pointedly took Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman to see the well-known Delacroix work, Liberty Leading the People, during the Prince’s recent visit. Leave it to the French to use art to make a point! By the way, it’s important to realize that Delacroix was born at the very end of the French Revolution – an epic period which altered all aspects of French society and culture so it’s no surprise that Delacroix grew up with politics on the brain!
There is a tendency when viewing artwork from a long, long time ago to evaluate it primarily based on its artistic merits, skill and composition – but not based on its historic context. This is a particular issue with Delacroix who, while wildly talented and expressive, made a point of using his subjects to comment on the current events and politics of his time and then-recent history. It’s easy to forget that what we now regard as classical art was thought of as popular art by its contemporaries.
Delacroix is often regarded as the leader of the Romantic movement in 19th-Century France. And while his lush, emotional, vivid style was certainly noted and talked-about, it was his choice of subjects, often drawn from contemporary events and literature, which really set him apart. He graphically showed violence and human suffering which was his approach to political commentary. He also used hyper-realistic but lush representations of animals based on his visits to the local zoo. In fact, one of the most popular items in this exhibit is likely to be his wonderful painting of a tiger!
Not too many of us are likely to know enough about French history to truly appreciate the context of Delacroix’s paintings. (But, please, raise your hand if you do!) There’s no question we will all appreciate his astonishing skill, technique, composition, color sense, vivid rendering, drafting abilities …etc. but knowing that contemporary events were so central to his art it will be fun to try and impute political or historic meaning to them retrospectively!