Delacroix should be an open book to the British. He respected them. He was a dandy with a taste for English clothes. The English taught him to paint in watercolour. He admired and was influenced by English painters - Lawrence, Wilkie, Bonington and Constable - and took subjects from Scott, Byron and Shakespeare. While others crossed the Alps to see Rome, Delacroix crossed the Channel to England, and rather liked it (although he did think he might have liked Italy better). And yet his temperament and his way of life were shaped by social conventions, family attachments and political connections which were so distinctively of the French 19th century in character that Timothy Wilson-Smith's biography leaves the British reader feeling around for something familiar to get a grip on. Perhaps one should first rid oneself of the idea that Delacroix's Anglophilia is going to be any help, and assume that England, as much as Morocco, was attractive because it was exotic. The source of one's puzzlement goes deeper than national differences, however. To make sense of Delacroix's life one must understand how the disdainful Delacroix, who said he preferred to converse with things, could cohabit with the Delacroix who was constantly dining out and eager for public recognition.
LRB 28 January 1993 | PDF Download