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6.6 Delacroix – exoticism and animal energy

It is significant that Delacroix characterised his genius as that of a wild animal, as the energy and exoticism of such creatures also inspired him as subjects. He went to see wild animals in the Jardin des Plantes, a botanical and zoological garden in Paris, and was fascinated by the large cats there (see Plate 43, A Young Tiger playing with its Mother). But, as with his Romantic predecessor Géricault, it was above all the horse that he used to express Romantic fury (see Plate 44, Tiger attacking a Wild Horse). The horse in Sardanapalus expresses a deep, sublime terror – a longstanding tradition in animal painting. In an earlier version of the animal combat theme by the English artist George Stubbs, for example (see Plate 45, Horse attacked by a Lion), the horse’s expression derives from the ‘catalogue’ of facial expressions provided by the seventeenth-century French artist Charles Le Brun. Imbued with a capacity for human terror, this horse signifies the overwhelming impact of the sublime that was to form the focus of much Romantic creativity. Later in his career, after visiting Morocco, Delacroix sustained an interest in painting fiery Moorish horses in action (see Plate 46, Lion Hunt). These exotic horses and their riders are intended to express and intensify sublime wildness in a colourful idiom.

Click to see Plate 43: Eugène Delacroix, A Young Tiger playing with its Mother [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Click to see Plate 44: Eugène Delacroix, Tiger attacking a Wild Horse

Click to see Plate 45: George Stubbs, Horse attacked by a Lion

Click to see Plate 46: Eugène Delacroix, Lion Hunt