Delacroix’s fascination with the Oriental and the exotic both fuelled and influenced his Romantic tendencies. His journey to Morocco encouraged him to balance Romantic obsessiveness with classical restraint and to inject a significant degree of enlightened empirical observation into his art. He was seduced by the colour and the light of this foreign land, but his sensuous enjoyment of the picturesque developed alongside a scientific interest in colour and form. His responses to Morocco remained, however, deeply influenced by western cultural values.
We have tracked Delacroix’s progression from an avid practitioner of a modified and modernised (Baroque) classicism to a professed, albeit somewhat reluctant, Romantic, and finally to a position (during his visit to Morocco) in which Romantic fantasy was infused by a dedication to first-hand observation and a new sense of living antiquity. In his Death of Sardanapalus he brought Romanticism to a dramatic climax. It was difficult for succeeding artists to surpass his achievements in creating bold and energetic fantasies. Nor could Delacroix sustain, within his own career, his earlier dedication to rebellion and innovation.
In the final years of his career Delacroix focused on monumental state commissions such as those for the church of Saint-Sulpice and the Palais-Bourbon in Paris. He also continued to work on paintings inspired by his North African travels and wrote extensively on art. In 1857 he was elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Fully integrated into the establishment, the reluctant Romantic rebel was eventually seen as the representative of an established aesthetic, Romantic classicism, that appeared outmoded by comparison with the modern, innovative realism of a new generation of artists such as Gustave Courbet (1819–77).