Exhibition at the Musée du Louvre is first major survey of the painter’s work in more than 50 years

Eugène Delacroix’s life and career laid down the prototype of the “Romantic artist” that so many have followed ever since: from rancorous rebel to pillar of the establishment.

Born into the professional bourgeoisie, Delacroix was educated at the elite Lycée Nationale, but dropped out to take up the less than respectable career of painting. He later fell out with his teacher, Pierre Guérin, and his school, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, preferring to develop his own methods.

Delacroix burst on to the art world with a series of succès de scandale at the Salons: in 1824, he showed The Massacre at Chios, which was innovative in its depiction of a contemporary rather than historical event, with allusions to the repressive Restoration monarchy; in 1827, The Death of Sardanapalus, which was a shocking celebration of death and eros; and in 1831, Liberty Leading the People, depicting a contemporary demonstration against the Bourbon dynasty.

Although politically and aesthetically radical, Delacroix was nonetheless recognised as a pioneer: his heterodox, anti-David and anti-Académie idiom of free brushwork, guided by Venetian Old Master colour rather than the beau métier of draughtsmanship, found many admirers who understood and appreciated what he was doing. He was lionised by many of the leading intellectuals of the day, including Charles Baudelaire, George Sand and Frédéric Chopin. Read more