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Letter from Eugène Delacroix to Théophile Gautier

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)

© RMN / G. Blot

Eugène Delacroix

MD 1990-2
Autograph letter, signed,
dated 4 august 1861
Purchased, 1990
1 p. in-8°

After completing the decoration of the Chapelle des Saints-Anges in the Église Saint-Sulpice, Delacroix sent invitations to interested friends and well-known figures, such as poet and journalist Théophile Gautier (1811–1872), asking for their opinions on his work. "A thousand, thousand thanks for your poetic and kindly article and your enthusiasm in doing it,” wrote Delacroix to Gautier in this letter dated 4 August 1861, in reply to the complimentary prose in the Moniteur universel of 3 August 1861.


The Chapelle des Saints-Anges in the Église Saint-Sulpice

Delacroix received the commission to decorate the Chapelle des Saints-Anges in the Église Saint-Sulpice in April 1849. On the ceiling he decided to depict the Archangel Michael Slaying the Devil; on the walls, Heliodorus Expelled from the Temple; and the work often viewed by historians as his spiritual testament, Jacob’s Struggle With the Angel. Yet the painter did not fully focus on this work until he had completed the decoration for the Salon de la Paix in the Hôtel de Ville in 1854. Worn out by illness, he settled closer to his worksite, moving to rue de Furstenberg in December 1857. Until the end, he expended a tremendous amount of energy, as indicated in his Journal on 1 January 1861: "In truth, the painting harasses me in a thousand different ways, like the most demanding of mistresses; for four months, I flee early in the morning and rush to this delightful work, as if to the feet of the most cherished mistress."

Théophile Gautier’s opinion

Once the project was finished, the painter sent out invitations from 22 July to the end of the month. Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) appears to have been the first to see the work when it was almost finished. On 3 August, he published a favorable article in the Moniteur universel, in keeping with his ongoing and strong support for Delacroix’s work since 1832. As with each major rendezvous with the public, he benefited from the author’s authority; it was therefore quite normal that he rush to thank the author of Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835), Emauc et camées (1852), and Rolman de la momie (1858): "A thousand, thousand thanks for your poetic and kindly article and your enthusiasm in doing it. You have spoiled me so often that I end up believing everything your friendship writes about me; I too often forget that your imagination adds to my inventions and that your style is like the varnish.”

The museum has two other letters from Delacroix to Théophile Gautier. The first is dated 22 July 1855 and was written after Gautier’s article about the paintings exhibited at the Exposition universelle was published in the Moniteur universel: " also has to admit that praise is encouraging and supportive. You are absolutely correct in thinking that yours have had this effect. The smallest drop of this dew would be enough to sweeten glasses of absinth that are fairly hard to swallow.”

The second was written in July 1861 and preceded the article on the Chapelle des Saints-Anges.

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