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Eugène Delacroix (Charenton-Saint-Maurice 1798-1863 Paris)

Massacre of the Innocents, after Peter Paul Rubens

with pencil inscription ‘eugène delacroix’ and ink number ‘503’ (verso)
graphite, point of the brush and brown ink, watermark figure on a globe with letters VDL [Van der Ley] [1]
23.2 x 32.2 cm

The artist’s studio estate (L. 838a).
Unidentified collector’s mark ‘C.R.’ (L. 630, twice).

Delacroix, one of the giants of French 19th century art, was not only a great painter, he was also a tireless draughtsman who drew tirelessly throughout his career too. Surprisingly, this aspect of the artist’s output remained largely unknown during his lifetime. The circa 8000 works on paper that were found in his studio upon his death, however, made clear what an important role drawing played in his artistic development. [2] According to the artist himself, the continuous study through drawing was a crucial aspect of an artist’s training. In his journal Delacroix wrote ‘before you begin, study unceasingly, but once started... you must execute freely’. [3] The many surviving studies by the artist after nudes,
plasters, antique sculpture, nature and the old masters made throughout his career are testimony to this philosophy.

It was through prints after old master paintings and drawings, including those from his own collection, that Delacroix studied the work of artists such as Raphael, Veronese and Rubens in great detail. While most of Delacroix’s paintings after Rubens show the latter’s compositions in their entirety [4], in his drawings Delacroix tended to select small groups of figures for careful study, and focusing both on their physical and psychological qualities. Through these works the artist was in direct dialogue with the greatest artists before him, allowing him to emulate their works while at the same time infusing them with his own spirit.

The work of Rubens was a particularly important source for the artist; in Delacroix’s own words he recognized an ‘expression carried to the utmost limit’ in the work of the Flemish Baroque painter. [5] Rubens’ name appears more than any other in the artist’s diary and Delacroix made two trips to Belgium, in 1839 and 1850, to study the artist’s work. [6] The 97 drawings after Rubens that were included in Delacroix’s estate sale underscore his admiration for Rubens’ work. [7]

The present drawing, executed in Delacroix’s characteristic style and technique, was drawn after an engraving by Paulus Pontius (1603-1658) [8] (fig. 1) which in turn depicts in reverse Rubens’ celebrated and monumental picture now in Alte Pinakothek in Munich (fig. 2). [9] The painting shows the gruesome execution of all male infants in Bethlehem on King Herod’s command. Delacroix chose to zoom in on a group of women protecting their children, drawing the viewer’s attention to the personal drama of these mothers. With controlled brushwork and carefully applied pools of wash, Delacroix brings this emotionally-charged moment to life. He paid particular attention to the mother at top left, who is worked up with carefully applied graphite. The infants shown at right furthermore display Delacroix’s great skill with the brush; the particularly loose brushwork gives them an almost calligraphic quality which recalls the work of traditional Chinese. As is the case with many other drawings by the artist after Rubens, Delacroix treated the original composition with some liberty; the infant at lower right, for example, appears at left of the mother holding an infant in the print by Pontius.

Other drawings by Delacroix showing groups of figures from Rubens’ paintings can be found in the Karen B. Cohen Collection, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. [10] The treatment of the graphite seen in the present drawing is particularly close to that in the sheets showing the Adoration of the Magi, after Rubens and Drunken Silenus, after Rubens, the latter being dated 1840. The loose and confident handling of the brush can furthermore be compared to a sheet from 1830 showing studies for Liberty Leading the People, also from the Katrin B. Cohen Collection. [11]

[1] cf. E. Heawood, 'Watermarks. Mainly of the 17th and 18th Centuries', Hilversum, 1950, nos. 1364-1365.
[2] M. Shelley, ‘Line and Color: The Drawing Practices of Delacroix’, in 'Delacroix Drawings. The Karen B. Cohen Collection', exhibition catalogue, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018, p. 137, note 1.
[3] A.E. Dunn, ‘Delacroix as a Draftsman: Through the Lens of the Karen B. Cohen Collection’, in op. cit., p. 13, note 1.
[4] B.E. White, ‘Delacroix's Painted Copies after Rubens’, 'The Art Bulletin', XLIX, 1967, p. 37.
[5] A.E. Dunn, 'op. cit'., p. 18, note 35.
[6] ibid., p. 18, note 36.
[7] See A. Robaut and E. Chesneau, 'L'Oeuvre complet de Eugène Delacroix', Paris, 1885, p. 476, nos. 1958-1959.
[8] see for an impression British Museum, London inv. 1891,0414.590; I.M. Veldman and D. De Hoop Scheffer, 'Hollstein’s Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts. ca. 1450-1700. Andries Pauli (Pauwels) to Johannes Rem', Amsterdam, 1976, no. 5.
[9] inv. 572; H. Devisscher and H. Vlieghe, 'The Life of Christ before The Passion: The Youth of Christ. Corpus Rubenianum Part V (1)', London, 2014, I, no. 53, II, fig. 188
[10] See A.E. Dunn, 'op. cit'., pl. 13, 14, 42 and 77.
[11] ibid., pl. 44.

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