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Before Your Visit: Listen to a Conversation with Delacroix Curator Asher Miller

Benjamin Korman
October 10, 2018
Delacroix | Detail view of a self-portrait by Eugene Delacroix

Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863). Self-Portrait in a Green Vest (detail), ca. 1837. Oil on canvas, 25 9/16 x 21 7/16 in. (65 x 54.5 cm). Musée du Louvre, Paris. © RMN–Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY / Michel Urtado

Despite his influence and status as a household name in Europe, the famed nineteenth-century painter Eugène Delacroix has never been the subject of a full-career retrospective in North America. This makes the comprehensive exhibition of works by the artist currently on view at The Met Fifth Avenue a first of its kind. As a new way to welcome visitors to the exhibition—whether in the galleries or online—Nina Diamond, a managing editor and producer in The Met's Digital Department, sat down to ask a few questions of exhibition co-curator Asher Miller.

Nina recently shared some thoughts with us about the project, stating:

Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but sometimes working at The Met is a bit of a selfish activity. I'm fortunate to be able to pose questions about art and artists straight to the experts.

Not to mention, I get to ask the ordinary, even obvious things that might embarrass others to voice themselves: Who was Delacroix? What makes this exhibition special? What should I look for when I go? These questions are just entry points. The answers give visitors a sneak peek and might make the exhibition less intimidating. I hope this chat with Asher will entice even more people to come visit, and to feel a bit better prepared when they do.

Listen to Nina and Asher's twelve-minute conversation, and follow along below with images of some of the works discussed.

Delacroix's Drawings

Delacroix drawing of an allegory of Genius and Envy

Eugène Delacroix, (French, 1798–1863). The Triumph of Genius over Envy, ca. 1849–51. Pen and brown ink over graphite on laid paper, mounted on cardboard, 10 3/8 x 13 13/16 in. (26.4 x 35.1 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1961 (61.160.1)

While Eugène Delacroix is best known for his paintings, he was a prolific draftsman as well. In fact, upwards of eight thousand previously unknown drawings emerged from his atelier after he passed away. "One of the things that exhibiting drawings alongside paintings and prints enables us to do is to see how his creative process played out as he developed his ideas," says Miller. "We see the ways in which he returned to themes throughout his life. We have paintings that had been gestating in his mind for decades before he actually executed them."

Christ in the Garden of Olives

Delacroix painting depicting Christ in the Garden of Olives with a group of mournful angels

Eugène Delacroix, (French, 1798–1863). Christ in the Garden of Olives (The Agony in the Garden), 1824–27. Oil on canvas, 9 ft. 1 7/16 in. x 11 ft. 3 13/16 in. (278 x 345 cm). Church of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, COARC, Paris. © COARC / Roger-Viollet

Many of the works on display traveled thousands of miles to be in this exhibition. The large-scale work Christ in the Garden of Olives has hung for more than a century at the Church of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. Miller is thrilled to have it at The Met: "Delacroix's paintings on a large scale need to be seen to be experienced fully."

In particular, Miller describes the special opportunity visitors have at The Met to be able to see it hung lower to the floor. For the first time, it's clearly visible how Delacroix used his paintbrush to highlight certain details of the scene: "We see a kind of mesmerizing use of paint in the foliage, in grass, in shrubbery, that is intended to attract your eye to the surface of the painting, because that is the point of contact." As you'll hear, these details were brought into even clearer view after recent conservation work.

Collision of Arab Horsemen

Delacroix painting depicting various Arab soldiers on horseback

Eugène Delacroix, (French, 1798–1863). Collision of Arab Horsemen, 1833–34. Oil on canvas, 32 x 40 in. (81.3 x 101.6 cm). Private collection

After traveling to Morocco on a diplomatic mission, Delacroix became enchanted with the country's beauty and culture. But the voyage also provided him with a long-desired connection to the past. "Moroccan society was something that he understood and apprehended as living antiquity," Miller tells us, then shares this illuminating excerpt from Delacroix's letters: "Beauty runs in the streets here . . . there are Romans and Greeks at my doorstep. I know now what they were really like. Rome is no longer in Rome."

Military exercises like the one pictured here became the topic of many of his career-defining works.

Women of Algiers in Their Apartment

Delacroix painting depicting a group of women in their Algerian apartment

Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863). Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, 1833–34. Oil on canvas, 70 7/8 x 90 3/16 in. (180 x 229 cm). Musée du Louvre, Paris. © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre) / Franck Raux

The works in this exhibition not only give access to treasures from around the world—they also transport the viewer around the world. In this painting form the Louvre, for example, the artist depicts a scene of daily life in Morocco, one which directly inspired famous later works by Picasso.

Women of Algiers in Their Apartment was meant to be exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1834 with two other paintings featured in the exhibition, A Collision of Arab Horsemen and Street in Meknes, but it never came to pass. This is the first time the three paintings have been shown together, as the artist intended.


Left: Eugène Delacroix, (French, 1798–1863). Faust, plate 1: Mephistopheles Aloft, 1826–27. Lithograph on chine collé, first state of seven, sheet: 21 1/2 x 14 1/4 in. (54.6 x 36.2 cm). Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Collection Dutuit

Delacroix lithograph depicting Mephistopheles in a scene from Goethe's "Faust"

Delacroix drew parallels between reading and appreciating art. "He was preoccupied with literature, whether it was the Bible or modern novels by Sir Walter Scott, the poetry of Lord Byron, Shakespeare, Goethe," Miller tells us. Beauty, perhaps, is at the heart of both experiences. As the artist wrote in his journal: "The first quality in a picture is to be a delight for the eyes. This does not mean that there does not need to be any meaning in it. But it is like poetry, which, if it offends the ear, all the meaning in the world will not save it from being bad."

This exhibition features a collection of seventeen lithographic plates Delacroix created to accompany an edition of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's classic Faust, including the one shown above.

Basket of Flowers

Delacroix painting of a basket of flowers set against a pastoral landscape

Eugène Delacroix, (French, 1798–1863). Basket of Flowers, 1848–49. Oil on canvas, 42 1/4 x 56 in. (107.3 x 142.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), 1967 (67.187.60)

One of the pleasures of a casual conversation with a curator is the chance to hear the backstory, or behind-the-scenes gossip, related to a work of art. Take this painting from The Met's own collection, which, in Miller's words, was once "difficult to love." Through recent conservation at the Museum, however, we can now recognize that Delacroix's artistry and craftsmanship are fully illuminated. "What we can see now is the true brilliance of Delacroix's color, the inventiveness of his imagination, and the freshness of his brushwork," Miller continues. Now that layers of dirt and varnish have been removed, it's easy to understand how Basket of Flowers inspired an entire generation of young Impressionists to paint still life.

Asher touches on these and many other topics in the Q&A, and expresses hope that visitors to the exhibition "see an artist with fresh eyes that other great artists admired incredibly deeply." Listen to the full conversation and be sure to visit Delacroix, on view at The Met Fifth Avenue through January 6, 2019.

Related Content

Delacroix is on view at The Met Fifth Avenue through January 6, 2019.

View a selection of works presented in the exhibition.

The exhibition catalogue, by Sébastien Allard and Côme Fabre with contributions by Dominique de Font-Réaulx, Michèle Hannoosh, Mehdi Korchane, and Asher Miller, is available for purchase at The Met Store.

Another monographic exhibition of Delacroix's work, Devotion to Drawing: The Karen B. Cohen Collection of Eugène Delacroix, is on view at The Met Fifth Avenue through November 12, 2018.

Benjamin Korman

Benjamin Korman is a producer and editor in the Digital Department at The Met.