Delacroix
Delacroix

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Delacroix

6.7 Delacroix – Orientalism and personal identity

Recent commentators have read paintings such as Sardanapalus as revealing the personal character or values of the artist. Delacroix’s recourse to the exotic and Oriental is seen as an extension of his obsession with his own desires. For example, Linda Nochlin (1983, pp.122–5) has interpreted this picture as an expression of masculine sadism; the cool, dandyish Sardanapalus being a surrogate for the artist himself, both creator and destroyer of all that is around him. To Nochlin, Sardanapalus signifies masculine fantasies about possessing, enjoying and destroying women’s bodies. She argues that a specific historical context gave rise to such fantasies: Delacroix’s ready access, as artist, to the female models he ‘possessed’ in his own studio. The Oriental setting of the painting defuses its sadistic charge by distancing the subject from nineteenth-century France. A similar point concerning male domination has been made (Grimaldo Grigsby, 2002, pp.255–6) concerning the depiction of women’s bodies in Chios, particularly as Delacroix slept with the woman who modelled for the female corpse in the painting's foreground. Whether this was sadism, voyeurism or plain erotic fantasy, this artistic practice is related to the issue of the implied audience for the painting. Did Delacroix envisage a passive (male) viewer who was assumed to welcome such fantasies? It is true that he underestimated the general unease the work would create. The scholar Richard Wrigley has pointed out that the dominant official view of artists in restoration France was that of people ‘properly unworldly – chaste, priest-like, a class apart from the rest of society’ (Wrigley, 1993, p. 135). This view was formed partly in order to counter the disruptive effects of the Revolution on the other-worldliness, spiritual and moral values that were felt to characterize the artist's studio in pre-revolutionary times. David’s circle, for example, was thought to have become too much involved in politics. The restoration establishment perceived the proper artist as someone apart from the normal engagements of social life, debauchery or other worldly approaches. As we have seen, in some respects Delacroix, like many of the Romantics, intensified and celebrated this sense of a being apart from the ‘common herd’. In other respects, however, his art engaged openly with sex, society and politics.

It is possible, then, to argue that Delacroix used Orientalism as a peg on which to hang his personal and Romantic obsessions and as a means of exploring and expressing his identity as an artist. There were, however, aspects of his approach to cultures outside Europe that suggested a less egocentric dimension. To find out more, look at Video 4, band 3 for an account of Delacroix’s 1832 journey to Morocco. There, the artist developed his outlook and technique through travel. The AV notes and the video to which they relate will introduce you to the particular circumstances of Delacroix’s encounter with North Africa – an encounter that was to enable him to study another culture at close hand.

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Alain Debray (French v/o)
I've just arrived in Tangier, I'm quite bewildered by all that I've seen. I com a notebook called Esq a vous .. Gibraltar but that to is something of amazement of all the things I've seen.
Melissa Berry (Narrator)
Morocco in the 21st Century is a fascinating place to a growing number of tourists who visit the country. Much of the Dras architecture and way of life here appears very different from that of western cultures. Two hundred years ago these differences appeared even more striking to Morocco's few European visitors. To them it represented the mystery of the oriental and the exotic.
For the majority of western artists securely installed in their studios the oriental was mostly a creation of the imagination. In the early 19th Century Eugene Delacroix established a reputation as a romantic artist with a deep interest in the oriental.
In the Louvre …. Most controversial work on an oriental theme. The death of Sardanapalus painted in 1827.
Professor William Vaughan
The subject of sardanapalus is a very dramatic one and it probably appealed to Delacroix in the first place because it had been a subject of a play by Lord Byron who was one of the great romantic poets who were admired in France in the 1820's. It tells the story of an Assiliahan potent tate who had lived a life of luxury and self indulgence and who was not coming to his demise as you might say, because in fact there were rebels who were rebelling against him and they were breaking into his palace. And rather than be captured by the rebels he decided to commit a spectacular suicide. Now one interesting point is that in Byron's play the Sardanapalus guise alone with his favourite concubine whereas in Delacroix painting he has much more mayhem with lots and lots of slaves and concubines. So the whole thing becomes a much greater indulgence in death and destruction and in a way he's made Sardanapalus almost more of a problematic character. He's the only figure in the pose, in the whole picture and all this mayhem, which is a result of his command, is going on around him and he's looking as it as though he's slightly bored by the whole thing. As though even this cannot excite his interest.
And I think it's that sense of dissolution, if you like, which is one of the fundamental strainsone finds on romanticism that comes out in the figure of Sardanapalus. Although it is a picture of mayhem and violence it's also a real tour du force as a painting and I think what he was hoping was that people would recognise the brilliance with which he had coped with this very difficult and challenging theme.
Melissa Berry
The death of Sardanapalus was criticised for it's clashing colours and it's odd perspective. But it certainly brought Delacroix into the limelight. So it's not surprising to learn that in 1832, when a French delegation was sent to Morocco, in order to negotiate a frontier with recently colonised Algeria, and his relations between the two countries Delacroix was invited to accompany them.
Helene Gill (Author of The Language of French Orientalist Painting)
Delacroix went to Morocco in 1832. He was himself in his 30's, he was a young man, a very impetuous young man, very curious. And Morocco was a shock to the system. It was mainly a shock from a visual point of view.
Melissa Berry
The new climate of North African colonisation gave Delacroix the opportunity to experience the orient rather than simply imaging it. But there was a great deal he didn't understand.
Alain Derbray
This place is made for painters. Economists …. Much to criticise as regards human rights and equality before the law, but beauty abounds here, not the over praised beauty of fashionable paintings.
Professor William Vaughan
He was very keen to make that journey and it meant that he could get an experience of among European cultures first hand.
Madame Arlette Sérullaz (Director of the Musée Eugene Delacroix, Paris)
For Delacroix when he arrived in front of …. This was a real completely different adventure. Delacroix arrived at the end of January with the light in Tangier at the end of January is very intense. And it's true that the walls of the house are white. So when you go inside you have a time of, what you say, accommodation because inside the house it's more dark.
Melissa Berry
As a traveller before the days of photography, Delacroix recorded everything he experienced in sketch books, paintings and letters.
Madame Arlette Sérullaz
The first sketch books begins on the 26th January, so that means 2 days after the arriving of the ship and they are received by the … of Tangier and Delacroix meant everything. In fact it gives a description of what he sees and the people, the crowd of the people in the street of Tangier. And the noise, the light and the colours and he wants to have all precise notes because he's afraid of missing something important. The first sheets of the sketch books in fact, gives an impression of great emotion in fact. He has, he's overwhelmed by sensations of any kind.
Alain Debray
One would need to have twenty arms and 48 hours a day to give … impression of it all. At the moment I am like a man in a dream. Seeing things he's afraid will vanish from him.
Madame Arlette Sérullaz
Two of the sketch books are almost like a diary and this diary for Delacroix, I think it was really important because as he was discovering a country, people a new civilisation he was afraid of missing something important and also that coming back to France everything that he had discovered when he was in Morocco should fade in his memories.
So for him it's en Francais, we say a …. He wants everything. He said once that he was looking at almost ready made paintings when he was collating in Tangier, and the second text books you can notice that the sketches are really organised. That in fact Delacroix is choosing the right angle and I think this is perhaps something really new and it's the beginning in fact of new, new way of painting. What is striking in the sketch books is the freedom of the sketches and I think one has to think in what situation Delacroix was when he made all the sketches because he certainly did some of the sketches as he was on his horse. So at that time of course he used only the pencil and under the tent Delacroix was able to modify some of the sketches, to do them more precisely. He was able at the end of the day to add the colours he had indicated before. If you look in the notes and inside the Sketchbooks you can understand the accuracy of the eye of Delacroix, his visual art critique. Some of the notes are like that. The shadow of white objects, highly reflected in blue. The red of saddles and the turban almost black, warm white velvet. So it's really precise.
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Helene Gill
A lot of the time he had to pack history, his brushes and his bags because people were staring at him, there was hostility mounting, stones were thrown simply because the very notion of stopping in the middle of the street to paint a picture of what was in front of him, even if that was not a human being if it was simply a doorway or a wall was alien to the local mentality.
Madame Arlette Sérullaz
Delacroix was invited to a Jewish wedding on the 21st February and in his sketch books he indicates all the details the groups of women, the musician in the middle and man coming in and out and I think at the very beginning in fact he had almost the idea of the possibility of making a painting.
Alain Debray
The Moores and Jews at the entrance, the Jew musicians. The violinist, his thumb in the air, the underside of the other hand very much in shadow, light behind. The hair around his head, transparent in places; The shadows full of reflections, white in the shadows. The women to the left in line one above the other that flower pots. White and gold dominate.
Melissa Berry
After spending a month in Tangier a delegation travelled on horse back a hundred and thirty miles south to the imperial city of Meknes where they were to formally received by the Sultan. On route and between camps Delacroix observed closely the Moroccan landscape and way of life.
Alain Debray
The picturesque is here in abundance. At every step one sees ready made pictures which would bring fame and fortune to twenty generation of painters.
Professor William Vaughan
Picturesque is quite a tricky term because we probably think of it most of all when we look at that period, in terms of English landscape and the picturesque movement there, which was looking at a certain way of composing rather attractive vistas and views. But the picturesque can mean something a little more than that.
Alain Debray
I am gradually insinuating myself into the customs of the country, so as to be able to draw many of these Moorish figures quite freely. They have very strong prejudices against the noble art of painting, but a few coins slipped here and there settle their scruples. Their dress is quite uniform and very simple, and yet the various ways of arranging it confer on it a kind of beauty and nobility that leave one speechless. There are subjects for pictures at every street corner.
Professor William Vaughan
And I think when Delacroix's looking at the picturesque when he's in Morocco he's seen it as something that will make pictures for him which will be exciting pictures interesting pictures.
He doesn't mean that they are just going to be pretty pretty pictures, he means that they are going to be really intriguing pictorial compositions.
Melissa Berry
So the picturesque for Delacroix meant figures, objects and sights that were striking, intriguing and unfamiliar.
Alain Debray
I go for rides in the surrounding country, which I find infinitely delightful, and I enjoy moments of delicious idleness in a garden by the city gates under a profusion of orange trees in full bloom and covered with fruit. Amid these lush natural surroundings I experience feelings like those I had in childhood. Perhaps some vague memory of the southern sunshine which I saw in my earliest youth is astir within me. Anything I may accomplish will be insignificant in comparison with what might be done here. Sometimes I feel quite baffled, and I am sure I shall bring back only a faint shadow of it all.
Helene Gill
He didn't sink into the merely Picturesque there was always more to it from a technical point of view but also from the point of view of the conception. There was a fascination with drapes, with tiles, with architecture, which is genuine and not just there for the decor.
Melissa Berry
A keen empirical observer, Delacroix nevertheless remained attached to Romantic fantasy. This was obvious in his obsession with Arab horses. He often saw them perform in fantasias - choreographed military displays.
Madame Arlette Sérullaz
He was with horses day and night this explained why he is always giving details of the saddles and of where they, the way the horses are running when you have the famous… fantasial which was something …. For him.
Helene Gill
Paintings of animals, particularly horses, lions, wild animals are a great romantic subject. It was used by Jerico whom Delacroix admired and it is everywhere in the romantic imagery, fighting animals in particular fascinated romantics. Because it showed irrational, uncontrolable urges in the animal which interested the romantics because of it's boundless energy because the mystery as to the source of that violence. In a prefreudian world they in fact demonstrate the uncontrolable side of humanity which was not understood at the time, not so much as it is understood now, which fascinated the romantics, in particular, Delacroix.
Melissa Berry
The unfamiliarity of Morocco made Delacroix confront issues of cultural identity.
Helene Gill
When Delacroix actually went to Morocco with the … diplomatic mission it was at a very early stage at French expansionism in north Africa. Of course French expansionism in north Africa was very extensive eventually with a bit settlement in Algeria in particular. It was customary to send a painter to record military expeditions and diplomatic missions into the territories into which France was interested. It had all kinds of functions, it had topographical functions, to actually map out the place quite literally. It sometimes had a mythological function to record the types of people and the costumes that we wore for future reference and also for anthropology and human sciences which were developing at the time. It was also to record in the case of a diplomatic mission the celemnity of the occasion and to serve obviously to show how the whole project was doing. According to post colonial theory this course on foreign lands and representations of foreign lands was a means of power. It is not just an instrument that helps in the invasion or in the submission of far away lands. It actually par takes of it, and as such it is directly implied in imperialism.
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Professor William Vaughan
He is somebody who is going to Algiers and Morocco at a time when France is beginning to take over those countries and he is a part of an imperialist venture, if you like, and he's looking at these cultures very much from the point of view of a western society. He is not trying to understand those cultures in a very deep sense, and we might say that what he's drawing from them are more vivid sense of colour and more dramatic sense of the exotic even a sense of a humanity that he feels that has been lost in his own society. But he's not actually involved in what the French are going to people in North Africa at that time, he's not concerned or interested in that. You might say that it's rather hard to expect him to be. One has to look at these things in context.
Melissa Berry
So was Delacroix’s artistic journey an example of cultural imperialism – or simply an attempt to find ways of understanding and describing a vivid North African culture?
Helen Gill
I think that it's clear, when Delacroix arrived in Morocco he had intellectual idea of orient. Five months after on his return his idea completely changed and I think what is very important is … something which is personal, really original, that when he thinks of orient he is always thinking of antiquity. For him the Arabs in the street seeking, resting. It's sort of normal senators, his great discovery when he arrives in Morocco. That in fact antiquity is living.
Alain Debray
Imagine, my friend, what it is to see lying in the sun, walking about the streets, cobbling shoes, figures like Roman consuls, like Cato or Brutus, I tell you, you’ll never be able to believe what I shall bring back, because it will be far removed from the natural truth and nobility of these men. There’s nothing finer in classical art.
Melissa Berry
Delacroix’s art expresses more complex ideas about the meeting of Eastern and Western cultures than a simple model of cultural imperialism would imply.
Helene Gill
He had a slightly sneering attitude towards those painters particularly French painters, who were perhaps over influenced by their admiration and wish to emulate or even copy the classical works of the past. And so when he went to Morocco he thought that here was in fact, Rome, but more so than Rome of contemporary days because he felt that this was a world which was the ancient world and so he did not really dress up Moroccans in order to portray them as Roman soilders as other orientialists and some contemporaries of his have done. But he sought a licence of humanity in particularly the clothing of the people he saw in Morocco as something which the western world had strayed from.
Melissa Berry
Delacroix’s 6 months stay in Morocco and brief stop in Algeria, gave him a wealth of material for future paintings, but the one that had the greatest impact was Women of Algiers in their Apartment.
Professor William Vaughan
I think the experience of Morocco did have a lasting effect. He'd always been interested in colour and that was perhaps why he was associated so much with romanticism in the 1820's and the sardanapalus was, if you like, the apex of that interest of that colour where you can find the strongest colours the most violent clashes. What he seems to turn his interest to in Morocco is the effects of colour in terms of harmonies.
Particularly the way that strong light can create more vivid effects of colour, but how they can balance together. One of the most interesting things in the Women of Algiers is the way that you find colours in the shadows. The way he allows defused colour to go throughout the whole picture and that is in a sense an experience that is going to become terribly important in the history of western painting it is something the impressionists pick up later on.
Melissa Berry
But did Delacroix persist in interpreting the Orient through the eyes of a dominant male viewer from a powerful nation.
Alain Debray
It's beautiful! It's like Homer's time! The woman in the gynoecium took care of her children, spun wool, and embroidered the most marvellous fabrics. This is woman as I understand her!
Helene Gill
Of course there is the question of the harem, which is represented in the femme d'algiers, Women of Algiers in their Apartments is not supposed to be seen by any westerner, in particular, not by male westerner. There is a lot of sexuality in the Women in Algiers in both paintings. The one painted in 1834, shortly after Delacroix's return from Morocco. And the one painted much later in 1849 which is different in outlook, but nevertheless has the same characters sitting broadly speaking in the same positions.
Now the first picture was a huge picture, a vast picture where the subjects are almost life size. Therefore the on looker is almost invited of join in, therefore to walk in and to transgress into the forbidden area of the women's apartments. The newness .. decorated with oriental artifacts, which is something very prevalent in orientialists paintings. There is a sort of bazaar of various objects to situate, to locate the scene. And the women are more on offer, so to speak. It has been remarked that the second picture, although very similar in composition is different in it's impact as well. It's a smaller picture. The lower line of horizon therefore not so much of an invitation to walk in because of the difference of scale. The different way in which the look, the gaze, positions itself when one looks at it. It's a more homely picture altogether, the light also comes quite naturally from the entrance and gives the whole thing a less theatrical atmosphere.
Melissa Berry
So had Delacroix’s exposure to a new culture modified his fundamentally Western and Romantic approach.
Professor William Vaughan
I think that picture does have a lot that we associate with romanticism still. And in a way you might say that Delacroix has carried this with him when he's come to north Africa. He's gone, hasn't gone there with ….. his mind is not empty, it's still full of his preoccupations and his interests. That sense of lethargy of the women, it isn't perhaps just something those women themselves expressed in algerial it's something that he has to some extent project it.
Helene Gill
We have a study in with the pastoral. Which is a very precise study of one of the women and all the details of her dress and also the batons she has on her little jacket. But it's almost that's all So that means that painting was executed only through Delacroix imagination.
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Melissa Berry
Although Delacroix continued to hold on to the values and fantasies of Romanticism, this didn’t prevent his work being a major force for change.
Professor William Vaughan
Delacroix has a great influence on painters on the later 19th Century. The impressionists in particular in their new way of discovering colour effect. And perhaps inparticular, Cezanne who we now see as one of the most important, if the not the most important painter of the later 19th Century.
Stephen Cornicard
We are all there in this Delacroix. When I speak of the joy of colour for colour's sake, this is what I mean... These pale pinks, these stuffy cushions, this slipper, all this limpidity, I don't know how, it enters your eye like a glass of wine going down your throat, and you are immediately intoxicated. One doesn't know how but one feels lighter. He knows how to differentiate - a silk is a fabric, a face is flesh. The same sun, the same emotion caresses them, but differently.
And it is in his colours that he knows it and does it. He makes contrast. All these peppery nuances, look, with all their violence, the clear harmony that they give.
Professor William Vaughan
By that I think he meant the effects of colour that Delacroix had discovered the ways in which harmonies could be created out of colour, but also the way they affected the sense of textures in pictures. The way all the neuences of atmospherics could be created. I find it very difficult to know whether he would have developed quite int he way he did if he hadn't been to Morocco. I myself feel that probably the most important aspect of Morocco for him, was simply the effect of light the power of light. He did find something there that he hadn't seen before shall we say and was critical for him.
Stephen Cornicard
In this short time, I have lived 20 times more intensely than in several months in Paris. If you ever have a few months to spare, come to Barbary and there you will see those natural qualities that are always disguised in our countries, and you’ll feel…the rare and precious influence of the sun, which gives an intense life to everything.
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