[Women of Algiers in their Apartment (French: Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement) 1834 oil on canvas Eugène Delacroix; source Wikimedia Commons. Picture is in the Louvre]
The National Gallery’s Delacroix exhibition is billed as ‘Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art’ which means that there’s not as much Delacroix as one might like. It’s more focused on seeing the great “Romantic” painter as a profound influence on the ‘Modern’ artists, such as the Impressionists and post-Impressionists. There are some interesting relationships made, especially with Renoir, who seems to have learned a lot about colour from Delacroix but Renoir had more, new paints to have fun with, thanks to industrialization.
One thing s that is particularly intriguing is the linking of Delacroix to Kandinsky. The final picture in the show is Kandinsky’s ‘Study for Improvisation V’, painted in 1910. The fascinating thing that links these two artists is their development of ideas about colour (expressed in Delacroix’s Journals and in Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art). This would be a great show in its own right, but it’s not really discussed here. But I doubt that Delacroix specifically influenced Kandinsky at all. I mean, Kandinsky no doubt saw Delacroix’s work in Paris and no doubt was impressed but – so what?
I do have a big problem with the way Art History is often done, as a linear progression of “influences.” Influence happens all the time, and it’s not linear. People see (and hear) stuff and this finds its way into their work. Of course it happens, but sometimes I wonder if the art history approach (at least as it is offered up in exhibits like this) is a bit too reductionist.
I found myself really impressed with Delacroix’s paintings of North Africa. Painted (deliberately) long after he’d seen the places, these are vibrant with colour and movement. ‘Women of Algiers in their Apartment’ (above) is particularly glorious. Delacroix avoids the overt exoticisation seen in some of the works by his “Orientalist” followers, notably Theodor de Chasseriau, whose work is featured here.
This was just my first visit to the show, and I’ll go again so maybe I’ll have more thoughts. I want particularly to think about how Delacroix’s imagery is repurposed in cinema.