Eugène Delacroix

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They say that truth is naked. I cannot admit this for any but abstract truths; in the arts, all truths are produced by methods which show the hand of the artist.

Eugène Delacroix (1798-04-261863-08-13) was a French painter, one of the leading Romanticists of the nineteenth century.


Journal (1822 - 1824 and 1847 - 1863)

The Journal of Eugene Delacroix : A Selection (1980) edited by Hubert Wellington, translated by Lucy Norton, Cornell University Press ISBN 0-8014-9196-7
  • The contour should come last, only a very experienced eye can place it rightly.
    • Introduction (p. xxiv)
  • Of late, men seem to have been possessed by an incomprehensible impulse to strip themselves of everything with which nature has endowed them in order to make them superior to the beasts of burden. A philosopher is a gentleman who sits down four times a day to the best meals he can possibly obtain, and who considers that virtue, glory and noble sentiments should be indulged in only when they do not interfere with those four indispensable functions and all the rest of his little personal comforts. At this rate, a mule is a better philosopher by far, because in addition to all this he puts up with blows and hardship without complaint.
  • There is no merit in being truthful when one is truthful by nature, or rather when one can be nothing else; it is a gift, like poetry or music. But it needs courage to be truthful after carefully considering the matter, unless a kind of pride is involved; for example, the man who says to himself, "I am ugly," and then says, "I am ugly" to his friends, lest they should think themselves the first to make the discovery.
  • The Natural History Museum is open to the public on Tuesdays and Fridays. Elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus; extraordinary animals! Rubens rendered them marvellously. I had a feeling of happiness as soon as I entered the place and the further I went the stronger it grew. I felt my whole being rise above commonplaces and trivialities and the petty worries of my daily life.
Liberty Leading the People (1833)
  • I believe it safe to say that all progress must lead, not to further progress, but finally to the negation of progress, a return to the point of departure.
  • Commonplace people have an answer for everything and nothing ever surprises them. They try to look as though they knew what you were about to say better than you did yourself, and when it is their turn to speak, they repeat with great assurance something that they have heard other people say, as though it were their own invention.
  • Can any man say with certainty that he was happy at a particular moment of time which he remembers as being delightful? Remembering it certainly makes him happy, because he realizes how happy he could have been, but at the actual moment when the alleged happiness was occurring, did he really feel happy? He was like a man owning a piece of ground in which, unknown to himself, a treasure lay buried.
  • The more I think about colour, the more convinced I become that this reflected half-tint is the principle that must predominate, because it is this that gives the true tone, the tone that constitutes the value, the thing that matters in giving life and character to the object. Light, to which the schools teach us to attach equal importance and which they place on the canvas at the same time as the half-tint and shadow, is really only an accident. Without grasping this principle, one cannot understand true colour, I mean the colour that gives the feeling of thickness and depth and of that essential difference that distinguishes one object from another.
  • Perfect beauty implies perfect simplicity, a quality that at first sight does not arouse the emotions which we feel before gigantic works, objects whose very disproportion constitutes an element of beauty.
The Abduction of Rebecca (1858)
  • They say that each generation inherits from those that have gone before; if this were so there would be no limit to man's improvements or to his power of reaching perfection. But he is very far from receiving intact that storehouse of knowledge which the centuries have piled up before him; he may perfect some inventions, but in others, he lags behind the originators, and a great many inventions have been lost entirely. What he gains on the one hand, he loses on the other.
  • Delsarte tells me that Mozart stole outrageously from Galuppi, in the same way, I suppose, that Molière stole from anybody anywhere, if he found something work taking. I said that what was Mozart had not been stolen from Galuppi, or from anyone else for that matter.
  • We should not allow ourselves to believe that writers like Poe have more imagination than those who are content with describing things as they really are. It is surely easier to invent striking situations in this way than to tread the beaten track which intelligent minds have followed throughout the centuries.
  • We are told that Shakespeare's plays were generally performed in barns and that no great trouble was taken over the production. The constant changes of scene which, incidentally, seem the sign of a decadent art rather than one which is progressing, were shown by placards with the inscription: "A Forest," "A Prison," and so on. Within this conventional setting the onlooker's imagination was free to follow the actions of the various characters who were animated by passions drawn from nature, and that was enough for him. So-called innovations are gratefully seized on as an excuse for poverty of invention and in the same way, the long descriptive passages that so overburden modern novels are a sign of sterility, for it is obviously easier to describe a dress or the outward appearance of an object than to trace the subtle development of a character or portray the emotions of the heart.
  • He [ Titian ] is the least mannered and consequently the most varied of artists. Mannered talents have but one bias, one usage only. They are more apt to follow the impulse of the hand than to control it. Those that are less mannered must be more varied, for they continually respond to genuine emotion.
  • In every art we are always obliged to return to the accepted means of expression, the conventional language of the art. What is a black-and-white drawing but a convention to which the beholder has become so accustomed that with his mind's eye he sees a complete equivalent in the translation from nature?
Jacob Wrestling the Angel (1861)
  • For his contemporaries, Racine was a romantic, but for every age he is classical, that is to say, he is faultless.
  • Mythological subjects always new. Modern subjects difficult because of the absence of the nude and the wretchedness of modern costume.
  • Painting, in the beginning, was a trade like any other. Some men became picture-makers as others became glaziers or carpenters. Painters painted shields, saddles and banners. The primitive painter was more of a craftsman than we are; he learned his trade superlatively well before he thought of letting himself go. The reverse is true today.
  • Curiously enough, the Sublime is generally achieved through want of proportion.
  • Nature creates unity even in the parts of a whole.
  • The so-called conscientiousness of the great majority of painters is nothing but perfection laboriously applied to the art of being boring.
  • They say that truth is naked. I cannot admit this for any but abstract truths; in the arts, all truths are produced by methods which show the hand of the artist.
  • Weaknesses in men of genius are usually an exaggeration of their personal feeling; in the hands of feeble imitators they become the most flagrant blunders. Entire schools have been founded on misinterpretations of certain aspects of the masters. Lamentable mistakes have resulted from the thoughtless enthusiasm with which men have sought inspiration from the worst qualities of remarkable artists because they are unable to reproduce the sublime elements in their work.

Quotes about Delacroix

  • Delacroix, lac de sang hanté des mauvaises anges,
    Ombragés par un bois de sapins toujours vert,
    Où, sous un ciel chagrin, des fanfares étranges
    Passent, comme un soupir étouffé de Weber.
    • Delacroix, blood lake, domain of evil angels,
      Encircled by fir trees, in depths of green darkness,
      Where, under wincing skies, such eerie fanfares drift,
      Like a smothered, love-lost sigh, an air of Weber.
  • Delacroix était passionnément amoureux de la passion, et froidement déterminé à chercher les moyens d'exprimer la passion de la manière la plus visible. Dans ce double caractère, nous trouvons, disons-le en passant, les deux signes qui marquent les plus solides génies, génies extrêmes.
    • Delacroix was passionately in love with passion, and coldly determined to seek the means of expressing passion in the most visible manner. In this dual character, be it said in passing, we find the two distinguishing marks of the most substantial geniuses, extreme geniuses.
  • Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix, a painter of noble lineage, who carried a sun in his head and storms in his heart; who for forty years played upon the keyboard of human passions, and whose brush— grandiose, terrifying or tender— passed from saints to warriors, from warriors to lovers, from lovers to tigers, and from tigers to flowers.
    • Théophile Silvestre, Les Artistes français, études d'après nature (1878)
  • His remains the finest palette in France and nobody in our country has possessed at once such calm and pathos, such shimmering color. We all paint in him.
  • This became Delacroix's theme: that the achievements of the spirit— all that a great library contained— were the result of a state of society so delicately balanced that at the least touch they would be crushed beneath an avalanche of pent-up animal forces.
Christ on the Sea of Galilee (1854)

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