Delacroix often drew inspiration from the theatrical works of Shakespeare. He was thoroughly acquainted with the British playwright’s oeuvre. This is the artist’s first depiction of a literary theme in engraving.
A Scottish tragedy
Delacroix chose to illustrate Act IV, Scene I, when Macbeth, who has usurped the throne of Scotland, consults with the witches brewing potions and conjuring up spirits to predict his future. It is the fantastical scene par excellence that sets the real character against the unreal world. Macbeth is shown from the front, standing squarely and dressed in a kilt. He gazes out at the viewer, as if seeking approval. The three witches, the
weird sisters as Shakespeare describes them, shown from the back or side, seem to melt into a cloud of smoke. They point an accusing finger at the usurper king.
An original and remarkable technique
The large-scale composition is an impressive technical feat. To obtain such mysterious plays of light—this distinctive chiaroscuro—the artist experimented profusely with the different effects of the scraper, scratching out the black crayon to achieve a particular rendering. The only source of light is the fire beneath the cauldron, and the incandescent boiling potion it contains.
- Susan Strauber, Eugène Delacroix. The Graphic Work. A Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 1997.
- Catalogue de l’exposition Delacroix, le trait romantique, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 6 avril-12 juillet 1998.
- Catalogue de l’exposition Shakespeare Romantique, sous la direction de Dominique de Font-Réaulx, Saint-Omer, Musée de Saint Omer, Hôtel Sandelin, 2017