France From The Inside

France From The Inside: Delacroix National Museum in Paris

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Delacroix's final apartment studio, now housing the Delacroix National Museum, is the setting of the artist's prodigious output in his last years.

In 1857, Eugène Delacroix, plagued by a weak constitution, moved to a spacious apartment on rue de Furstenberg in the 6th arrondissement in Paris. Now a museum established in his honor, this apartment boasts of a fine collection of Delacroix’s early works, his letters and lithographs. The collection presents an intimate portrait of Delacroix’s youthful friendship with the Fielding family, culminating in what could rightly be called the English Influence. No less poignant for visitors wandering through Delacroix’s final studio and living quarters before his death in 1863 is the artist's relentless dedication to his work during his last years.

6 Rue de Furstenberg

The Furstenberg apartment provided Delacroix with a perfect sanctuary. Large and spacious with a high ceiling, it housed a studio facing the garden. According to friends’ journals, the artist retired often to the garden to regain strength and energy. It provided the quiet setting he needed not only for recuperation, but also for executing the plans of his final works – the frescoes at the Church of Saint Sulpice.

The Influence of Thales Fielding on Delacroix

In his youth, Delacroix developed a close friendship with English artist Thales Fielding. So strong was this friendship the two artists did mutual portraits of each other which they, throughout their careers, posted at various salons and exhibits. Thales also arranged for Delacroix’s visit to England in 1825. Thales’ specialty in watercolor and lithographs had a profound influence on Delacroix whose lithographs of Shakespeare’s plays have become legendary. The National Museum houses his entire series of 16 lithographs and their stones, illustrating Hamlet, a project Delacroix undertook in 1834, but was interrupted by projects commissioned for the Palais du Luxembourg. He returned to the project in 1843.

The Last Years of Eugène Delacroix

Why did Delacroix move to the Furstenberg apartment? He was plagued by a weak constitution which made traveling to the Church of Saint Sulpice difficult. The Furstenberg apartment was a brief walk from the Church. He knew that his illness could get the better of him and consciously withdrew from a busy social life, spending the last years in the company of his paintings, a small retinue of close friends and a loyal housekeeper.

“One works not only to produce paintings,” Delacroix once said, ”one works to give time a price.” Turning 60 in 1858, he was determined to finish painting the dreams he had been carrying within him all his life. As Adrien Goetz indicated in “A Painter in Exile,” Delacroix needed to paint because he understood that creating itself was not enough. He had to incarnate the invisible world he carried within. To give a price to time is to make each day precious, to save the self by immersing himself in the ritual of daily work.

One may venture to say that his frescoes at the Church of Saint Sulpice illustrate the the necessity for action in the face of annihilation. There is a sense that Delacroix saw himself as Jacob wrestling his Angel and St. Michael defeating Satan.

His final years are a testament of a magnificent obsession realized in a prodigious output : the frescoes at the Church of Saint Sulpice, Horses at the Watering-Place ( 1862), Hermine and the Shepherds (1859), Arabian Combat in the Mountains ( 1863), Dueling Horses in a Stable ( 1860), Ovid at the Scythes ( 1859) and more.
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