A rebellious outsider, constantly in a tug of war with his famous rival Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Delacroix became legendary for his dramatic paintings teeming with French revolutionaries storming the ramparts and exotic eastern beauties. At the heart of his work was a fascination with romantic subject and passion that transformed conventional French painting in the 19th century. Delacroix threw out the rule book in favour of radical new techniques with colour and movement.
The National Gallery's major new exhibition, Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art surveys the artist's career, but then reaches out beyond - snatching at the modern art Delacroix influenced. You cannot help but wonder why. There hasn't been a major presentation of Delacroix's work in London for 50 years - why dilute the firepower of his work? Even in miniature, the Death of Sardanapalus bursts with hysterical mayhem. The Convulsions of Tangiers, with its jewel-bright palette and frenzied foreground perfectly captures the claustrophobia and exuberance of a North African city, under the wide, impassive blue sky. These works don't need propping up by Cézanne, Gauguin, Renoir, Matisse and Kandinsky. It is no revelation that Delacroix influenced the modernists.
The exhibition meanders, occasionally stating the obvious, occasionally the bizarre (there is a whole room on flower painting, which is filled with a seemingly random selection of paintings) before ending abruptly. This feels like a missed opportunity.
|Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art, National Gallery
|National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN | MAP
|Charing Cross (underground)
17 Feb 16 – 22 May 16, Daily: 10am–6pm Friday: 10am–9pm
|£Prices not yet released
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