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Eugène Delacroix, head of a peasant woman


EUGÈNE DELACROIX (Charenton-Saint-Maurice 1798 - Paris 1863) HEAD OF A PEASANT WOMAN WITH LARGE HAT (A preparatory drawing for the painting The Education of the Virgin, 1842)
Pencil on laid paper, estate sale stamp lower right (Lugt 838a); 155 x 179 mm. Pasted on a decorated mount. PROVENANCE: The cardboard on the back of the original frame bears the label of the EXPOSITION DELACROIX / Musée du Louvre et Bibliotheque Nationale / Juin-Juillet 1930. The inscriptions in pen on the label indicate the owner of the drawing as Madame Malvy, who is in fact to be identified with Louise de Verninac Malvy, the daughter of Charles de Verninac, who was the only son of Delacroix's sister, Henriette de Verninac; Delacroix's junior by only five years, he and Delacroix developed a close relationship that continued when Charles studied law in Paris from 1822-1824 and then stayed to work there until 1829. Regarding to the description of the drawing, the pen inscription on the label is very precise; it reads Etude fatte à Nohant pour l'Education de la Vierge. The writings in pen on the label do not indicate a catalogue number and, in fact, the drawing is not mentioned in the catalogue of the exhibition (Exposition Eugène Delacroix: peintures, aquarelles, pastels, dessins gravures, documents : Juin-Juillet 1930). However, under the label is stamped the number 22, which is, much probably, the numbering of the works exhibited but not in the catalogue. The backing cardboard bears also the stamped mark GALLERIA DEL MILIONE / MILANO / VIA BIGLI, 2. Founded in 1930 and still existing, the Milanese gallery Il Milione was specialized in works by Italian artists of the 20th century. The gallery has been located in Via Bigli from 1951 until the nineties. Finally, the backing cardboard bears the round label COLLEZIONE ANNA ANDREOLIinscribed with the number 45; but I have no information at all about this collection. The drawing is, in all evidence, the preparatory study for the the head of St. Anne in the painting The Education of the Virgin. Delacroix painted this canvas in June 1842, during his first trip to the Berry region, where he stayed in Nohant with George Sand. He intended to give the painting to the village church, whose patron was Saint Anne. As for the theme, he was inspired by a scene he witnessed during one of his walks. In his own words, in a letter addressed to George Sand: As I was entering the garden, I just saw the subject for a superb painting, a scene that affected me considerably. It was your farmer with her small daughter. I could watch them as much as I wanted from behind a shrub, where they couldn’t see me. They were both sitting on a tree trunk. The old woman had her hand on the shoulder of the child, who was attentively learning a reading lesson. Our drawing is clearly a study of the head of the old woman, with her large peasant cap.

Born in a family of hight officials of the French Republic and then of Napoleon's empire, in 1815 Delacroix began to take painting lessons from Pierre Guérin, whose classicist instruction had little effect on him and was less important for his development than the literary education that he had received at the lycée. In every essential respect he was, like many of his contemporaries, a self-taught artist, whose real school was the Louvre, where he copied the paintings of Titian, Veronese, and Rubens. In 1822 his Salon debut, the Barque of Dante (now in the Louvre), attracted some attention. Two years later, his Massacres of Chios (Louvre) burst upon the Salon of 1824 as a terrifying hymn in honor of doom and irremediable suffering (Charles Baudelaire). The government's purchase of the work enabled Delacroix to visit England in the spring and summer of 1825. After these paintings of exquisite finish, the colossal, orgiastic Death of Sardanapalus (Louvre), shown at the Salon of 1827, came as a shock to the public. Delacroix had taken the subject from a play by Byron but supplied the voluptuous cast of this scene of slaughter from his own imagination. He paid for his audacity with a temporary loss of official favor. The following years were a difficult but productive period during which he experimented with a variety of subjects: studies of lions and tigers, oriental scenes, sensuous nudes, and turbulent battles. The Revolution of 1830 inspired his one truly popular work, Liberty Leading the People (Louvre). For once, public and critics united in praise of the artist, and the government of Louis-Philippe awarded him the Legion of Honor. In early 1832 Delacroix visited North Africa in the suite of a French embassy to the sultan of Morocco. Islamic Africa surpassed all his expectations. He filled sketchbooks with observations of Arab life and gathered a store of ideas that served him for the rest of his life. On his return to Paris, he began a series of oriental subjects. Early in his career, Delacroix had been hailed by the young French romantics as their leader. During the 1830s he outgrew this affiliation, not because he had changed his course, but because his fellow romantics were failing to keep up with him. His later works expressed a growing concern with traditional subject matter and monumental form. Behind Delacroix' new concern with compositional structure and balance lay the experience he had gained in carrying out the architectural decorations that occupied him during the latter part of his life. The governments of Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III favored him with important monumental commissions, beginning in 1833 with the decorations of the Salon du Roi in the Palais Bourbon. This was closely followed by the even larger enterprise of the Palais Bourbon's library (1838-1847) and by several other public commissions. No other painter of the time was so continuously employed in monumental work on the grandest scale, none was given such opportunities to triumph in public on ceilings, domes, and walls. The Universal Exposition in 1855 showed thirty-six of his paintings, a tribute to him (together with Ingres) as one of France's two preeminent living artists.


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