He’s one of French art’s most famous — but least understood — masters.
Now the Louvre in Paris is seeking to reinterpret the work of Eugene Delacroix in a retrospective that goes beyond the brief years in which he painted his most recognizable masterpieces, such as Liberty Leading the People, which has graced postage stamps and bank notes in France as well as a Coldplay album cover.
Alongside the Mona Lisa, Delacroix’s famed image of a bare-chested revolutionary woman brandishing a flag and bayonet, from 1830, is the Louvre’s most visited painting.
Visitors who know little about the artist’s extensive career will be enlightened by Delacroix 1798-1863, which opens Thursday.
“Delacroix is the world’s greatest Romantic painter. His painting is one of the two most iconic works here. Yet, he remains a mystery,” said Sebastien Allard, painting director at the Louvre.
“There was so much, so much more after the 10 years when he produced his most famous paintings. And we are showing his near-complete works for the first time since 1963,” he added.
Allard said 200 works, including watercolors, lithographs and religious art, as well as intimate journals, show the profound influence Delacroix had on world painting.
A painter obsessed with light and color, he was one of the first artists to paint mixed-race models to capture the unique luminosity of the skin. Instead of painting green, Delacroix would paint two dots — one blue, one yellow — next to each other and let the spectator’s eye do the rest.
The exhibit demonstrates how he was an avid experimentalist, inspiring many after him. Pablo Picasso reproduced Delacroix’s Women of Algiers, and his pioneering techniques were also seized upon by Impressionists such as Claude Monet and Paul Cezanne.
Delacroix has, over the decades, found international fame — including in the United States, from where around 40 of the works were loaned for this show.
However, the sheer size of many of the dramatic oils — up to and over 260 centimeters by 325 centimeters (102 inches by 128 inches) — has prevented the movement of the work around the world.
“Delacroix loved the Louvre, and here really is the only place you can see one of the greatest artists of all time,” Allard said.
The Delacroix retrospective runs until July 28, and will be shown in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the fall, minus the larger works.