Musée National Eugène Delacroix
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Self-portrait as Ravenswood

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)

© RMN / D. Arnaudet

Eugène Delacroix
(1798-1863)

RF 1953-38
Circa 1821
Oil on canvas
Bequeathed by Paul Jamot to the Société des Amis d’Eugène Delacroix, 1939;
Acquired by the State in 1953
On loan from the Musée du Louvre Departments of Paintings
H. 0,410 m ; L. 0,330 m.

This painting, one of the artist’s few self-portraits, was probably made around 1821. Delacroix portrayed himself as Edgar Ravenswood, a character from Walter Scott’s novel, The Bride of Lammermoor, published in 1819.

The painter’s identification with the ill-fated hero, the unfinished aspect, and the dark colors underscoring the melancholy character, reveal Delacroix as a romantic, far different from the mature, confident man depicted in Self-Portrait with Green Jacket (Paris, Musée du Louvre).

 

During his lifetime, Delacroix seems to have been concerned with leaving a faithful portrait of himself to posterity, even giving advice to artists engraving his portrait, but the fact is, the master only left a small number of painted or drawn self-portraits. The most famous of these is his Self-Portrait with Green Jacket, which is painted in 1837 and bequeathed to his loyal servant, Jenny Le Guillou, with instructions that she then donate it to the Musée du Louvre.

A romantic portrait: Delacroix suffering...

This unfinished portrait of a young man, whose dark colors intensify the sense of mystery, raised numerous questions about the identity of the figure that Delacroix had chosen as his double. As the stretcher has a penciled note by the painter, "Raveswood" [sic], it was generally accepted that Delacroix depicted himself as Edgar Ravenswood, the hero of Walter Scott’s novel, The Bride of Lammermoor, published in 1819 and translated into French soon after. The Spanish clothes worn by Delacroix, along with the large black cape, correspond to Scott’s description of his character, the accursed son of Espagnol who was stripped of his ancestors’ lands when his father died. In fact, the Delacroix children found themselves in a similar situation at the time; they were on the brink of ruin, because of the irremediable loss of the Boixe forest, land that belonged to their recently deceased mother - and claimed by a host of creditors. Another theory - that Delacroix had wanted to identify himself with one of Shakespeare’s characters, Hamlet, as suggested in an article by L. Rouart published in Les Arts in 1907 - is not supported by any plausible argument.

... and ill

Delacroix, stricken by his family’s situation, was also in ill health, which would explain the emaciated face in this portrait. In the autumn of 1820, he suffered from a fever, as he wrote to his friend Pierret: "Night brings me only weariness, I couldn’t take two steps without feeling faint, I couldn’t write without feeling my head split open." (Joubin, Correspondance. Letter to J.B. Pierret, 20 October 1820). His complexion is certainly pale, but the expression is spirited and determined, illustrating a kind of elegance and distance that appears in most of the portraits made during his lifetime.

Documentation

George Heard Hamilton, "Hamlet or Childe Harold ? Delacroix and Byron" in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, volume XXVI, juillet-décembre 1944, pp. 367-386.

Lee Johnson, The paintings of Eugène Delacroix, a Critical Catalogue, Volume I, Oxford, 1981, n° 64, repr. 58.

Véronique Moreau , in Delacroix en Touraine, catalogue exposition Tours, musée des Beaux-Arts, 1998, notice S.1, repr.p.20.

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