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Self portrait

Eugène Delacroix

(1798 - 1863) | 893.3

Date : Circa 1816 | Medium : Oil on canvas

Acquired in 1893

This startling portrait of Delacroix, larger than life size, with its full frontal view and its faraway gaze, is easily identifiable from the 1819 self-portrait familiar to us from a Villot engraving. The young man’s face emerges abruptly from the shadows with the same thick, wild head of hair and the same intense expression that captivates the viewer.

Here, Delacroix is leaving adolescence behind him, while still a student at Guérin’s atelier and spending much time with Géricault, for whom he posed as a life model, including the figure of a dead young man in The Raft of the Medusa. The work was in fact originally attributed to Géricault himself, but the existence of the engraving, the strong sense of presence emanating from the fixed gaze and a technique distinct from that employed by Géricault all incline towards a self-portrait.

Delacroix has painted himself with a look of juvenile solemnity and introspective poise. The effect of his saturnine countenance is intensified by the troubling chiaroscuro and the Rembrandtesque technique. Infra-red photography has revealed clearly defined shadows and the hair built up and worked in, then deliberately obscured by the glaze. The ‘brush moulds the paint to create a smooth finish’ (G. Bazin) and the overall treatment gives an impression of fluidity. In summary, it is a remarkable self-portrait which communicates the strength of character and resolve of a genius in the making. The museum acquired the work from the collection of Pierre Andrieu, a student of Delacroix.