These two portraits - Thales Fielding by Delacroix and Eugène Delacroix by Thales Fielding, each painted circa 1824-1825 - are a moving testimony to the importance of the artists’ mutual friendship. The pictures are not self-portraits (a genre Delacroix abhorred). Each friend posed for the other before the separation imposed by Fielding’s return to England in 1824, after more than three years in Paris.
Delacroix needs no introduction, but Thales Fielding is less well-known, although the "Fielding brothers" will be familiar to readers of Delacroix’s Journal and letters, where their name is frequently cited. The English brothers settled in Paris one after the other, starting in 1820, encouraged by the Swiss publisher Jean-François d’Ostervald, who was looking for landscape artists to work on his lithograph albums of picturesque scenes (the young English painter Richard Parkes Bonington was Ostervald’s best-known collaborator). Together, the brothers contributed to the Excursions sur les côtes et dans les ports de Normandie ("Excursions to the Normandy coast and ports").
The five Fieldings were the sons of the painter Theodore Nathan Fielding, to whom they owed their evocative names: Theodore (the eldest, named for his father), followed by Frederick Raffael Fielding, Copley Antony Van Dyck Fielding, Newton Fielding, and Thales Angelo Vernet Fielding. The five are often mentioned by their family name only in sources, making it difficult to determine which Fielding brother is being discussed. We know, however, that all of them taught watercolor painting to Raymond Soulier, who in turn taught Delacroix, who subsequently befriended the brothers directly.
Their technique surpassed the basic uses of watercolor to incorporate gouache highlights, scraping and the use of rubbers and varnish. At the Salon of 1824, Stendhal particularly admired a small watercolor by Thales Fielding showing Macbeth Meeting the Witches on the Heath (n° 647).
Delacroix assisted Thales Fielding with the small watercolor mentioned above (as noted in his Journal, May 11, 1824); at the same time, Fielding seems likely to have "put the background right" in Delacroix’s Massacres at Chios, presented at the same Salon. The two painters shared a studio at 20 Rue Jacob, experimented together with watercolor and print-making, and established a firm friendship. In his Journal Delacroix frequently mentions meals taken with Thales during the year 1824. Later that year, in October, the two were separated when Thales returned to London.
The two friends probably painted each others’ portraits on the occasion of Thales’s departure (or perhaps when they were reunited a year later, in London?). Thales constantly invited Delacroix to cross the Channel and join him in London, planning an extended visit for the following year. As further proof (if proof were needed) of his genuine fondness for the French master, Thales exhibited his Portrait de Delacroix at the Royal Academy in 1827 (n°269), paying tribute to him at a time when he was still little-known in England. Later, Fielding added Delacroix’s Légion d’honneur (awarded in 1831) to the picture, testifying to their continuing friendship. Several exchanges of letters also witness the English painter’s efforts to help his friend establish a reputation in London. "There is a very good place to exhibit [your drawings], no. 27 Regent Street" he writes, in spring 1828. We know that Delacroix exhibited his Execution of Doge Marino Falieri at the British Institution in the same year.
At the same time, Fielding’s own artistic career was somewhat low-key, although he exhibited regularly at the Society of Painters in Water-Colours, to which he was elected in 1829, and at the British Institution. He ended his career as a professor at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, on a comfortable salary. Few of his works have been traced today, although some of his watercolors and prints are in the collections of the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester and the Paul Mellon Center for British Art at Yale University.
Thales Fielding was essentially a lithographer and watercolor landscape painter. Portraiture was not his main genre, although his Portrait of Delacroix presents an immensely likeable, realistic image. Delacroix appears as a man conscious of his appearance and wardrobe, his collar delicately picked out in fine threads of white. His willful, determined gaze echoes that seen in the imposing retrospective portrait busts of the painter at the height of his glory, in the museum’s collection. This rare, invaluable portrait of Delacroix in his youth offers a delightful glimpse of his softer, more intimate nature.
Lee Johnson and Michèle Hannnoosh, Eugène Delacroix, Nouvelles lettres, Bordeaux, 2000
Patrick Noon, in Crossing the Channel, British and French Painting in the Age of Romanticism, exhibition catalog, Londres, Tate Britain, 2003, p.50, n°1 et 2, repr.
Christophe Leribault, Deux portraits d’amitié réunis, Gazette de l’Hôtel Drouot, May 8, 2009, pp 180-181. repr.