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The World of Delacroix 1798-1863, by Tom Prideaux and the Editors of Time-Life Books

The World of Delacroix 1798-1863, by Tom Prideaux and the Editors of Time-Life Books
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The World of Delacroix 1798-1863, by Tom Prideaux and the Editors of Time-Life Books
The Great Romantic
     On a winter night in Paris in 1859 Eugene Delacroix attended a grand ball given by the Emperor Napoleon III to celcbrate the marriage of his cousin to Princess Clotildc of Savoy. More than 8,000 guests swept through the Hotel de Ville, met on the splendid stairways, whirled in the ballrooms, and chatted in the alcoves. According to a Paris journal of the day, the scene was a glory of brilliant lights and white lilac. During the evening Delacroix was sought out by the composer Daniel Auber, who told him that one of the Napoleonic princesses had asked to see him: she wanted to meet the great artist.
     What the Princess saw, moving toward her through the crowd, was a man whom his friends and enemies never tired of describing. They spoke almost warningly of his “pale olive complexion . . . thick dark hair. . . ficrcc eyes. . . feline expression . . . magnificent teeth . . . wild, strange, exotic, almost disquieting beauty . . . velvety and winning, like one of those tigers whose supple, formidable grace he excelled at rendering.” They compared him to an educated Maharajah, and to Montezuma. They called him “a volcanic cratcr artistically concealed behind bouquets of flowers.” They said he exuded a diabolic smell of sulphur. If all this were true, the Princess might have imagined herself being clawed, chewed, suffocated, and boiled in lava, and might have run screaming from the hall. But when she was confronted with her great artist, he gave her a disarming smile and cut himself down by saying, “You see, he is not very big."
     Today Delacroix’s stature in the world of art is assured, but the paradoxes of his personality and talent have always made him hard to know. Called “the Creat Romantic," he insisted he was a pure classicist. Caught up in the revolutionary ferment of his world, he remained aristocratically aloof. His outward reserve masked passionate inner fires. He could be a lover of women and an ascetic; a gadabout and a work fanatic; an adept at social trivia and a man of wide-ranging erudition whose personal journal—certainly among the most remarkable ever kept by an artist—revealed not only his mastery of esthetics but an impressive grasp of music, theater and literature, and acuity as a critic.

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