On Delacroix and Courbet
The period surrounding 1781 to 1855 in France’s history is united by social and political change, an evolution of ideological struggles towards the best possible political struggle amongst anchoring human faults. The life of the artist too underwent change and struggled with the hierarchy that existed to validate artistic triumph. Changes are apparent amongst a broad spectrum, including David, Ingres, history paintings and caricatures. Artists that demonstratively epitomize the shifts, overwhelmingly united by a shift from acceptance to defiance, are Eugene Delacroix (1789 – 1863) and Gustave Courbet (1819 – 1877). Artistic and cultural differences that developed are transparent through understanding of the paradigmatic differences of these two artists. This essay will identify motivating factors in the two artists’ work, explore how they interact with one another, and, ultimately, validate their significance and vitality within the history of French painting. Delacroix and Courbet will both be ultimately described as triumphant in defiance, possessors and enablers of creativity.
To start with the end, Courbet is an artist that triumphed defiance through definitions. Courbet’s work was bold in subject matter, just like the artist's lifestyle. To understand this as a success, we must consider an artist directly involved in the height of the artistic institution – Delacroix, the Romantic painter. Romantic painters were from what Baudelaire calls "… the most recent, the latest expression of the beautiful." Delacroix’s work shows an artist that believes in following the way of his predecessors, to grow from what he is dealt. Courbet’s work shows an artist who insists on forging his own path entirely, risky as it was.
Delacroix was placed at the head of this most “modern”’ school. The Salon and its competitions dictated the motives of the artist. Delacroix’s first winning painting was Dante and Virgil in Hell (1822). This painting was indeed a success: the French believed themselves to be a modern embodiment of the Classics, and Dante and Virgil reinforced this well enough. The painting is deemed "a revolution in itself." The colors blend together so much that the painting is better understood from farther away than up close. Fans triumphed it's subject matter: "...romanticism will not consist in a perfect execution, but in a conception analogous to the ethical disposition of the age." This painting, after the Divine Comedy, also embeds Delacroix in the literary movement. This movement was vital to the overall organization of history painting, as a sharp literary vocabulary of the painter was admired if not necessary. “Delacroix has a fondness for Dante and Shakespeare, two other great painters of human anguish." Delacroix concerned himself with grand, tortured ideas. This literary fascination – of Shakespeare, Bryon, Sir Walter Scott, etc. – can be seen as a departure from the classics...