Oil on paper mounted on canvas
H. 0.312 m; W. 0.437 m
Signed and dated in the lower right corner: Eug. Delacroix 1841
Purchased in 1988
On June 4, 1840, after the withdrawal of painter Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury (1797 - 1870), the Comte de Rambuteau, Prefect of the Seine département, commissioned Delacroix to decorate a chapel in the church of Saint-Denis-du-Saint-Sacrement, on Rue de Turenne in the Marais district of Paris. While searching for a subject, Delacroix sketched this little Annunciation in 1841. He finally decided on a Pietà which he painted for the Chapel of the Virgin in May 1844, taking over from the painter Joseph Court (1797 - 1865).
On a sheet of studies that Delacroix made in 1840 for the composition of his Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople (1840, Louvre), notes in the margin reflect his search for a subject with which to decorate the chapel in the church of Saint-Denis-du-Saint-Sacrement: "For the Chapel of the Virgin, make narrow panels of subjects with several figures like the panels of Rubens-The Birth of the Virgin-The Visitation-Christ in His Mother’s Lap-The Annunciation etc [...]". In 1841, he sketched this little painting with its rather theatrical composition; a second version bearing his signature is now in a private collection. The theme he finally chose for the decoration of the chapel was a Pietà, showing the Virgin with arms dramatically outstretched over the dead body of her Son. This work was better suited to the size of the chapel wall than the Annunciation, which Delacroix considered "unprepossessing" in view of the "14 by 10 feet" that needed to be covered (letter from E. Delacroix to A. Varcolliers, January 22, 1842, Musée Delacroix). In 1858, the painter used the same theme for a painting that has not been located but must have been splendid, judging by the admiration that Belgian art dealer Arthur Stevens (1825 - 1899) expressed when he saw it at the artist’s studio (A. Joubin, Correspondance, letter of November 3, 1858).
Only the light tones of the angel’s robe and the swirling clouds behind him contrast with the overall green and crimson in this sketch, which depicts the moment when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will bear the son of God. Holding a lily branch (symbolizing virginity) in his right hand, Gabriel points to the sky-to God, who sent him with this message. Mary humbly consents, one hand delicately placed on her heart, her blue cloak outlining the curve of the belly that will soon swell with pregnancy. Two angels raise a heavy theater curtain to present this nonetheless simple scene, creating a theatrical mise-en-scene that was much admired by Baudelaire: "I saw a little Annunciation by Delacroix, in which the angel visiting Mary was not alone, but ceremoniously conducted by two other angels, and the effect of this heavenly court was both powerful and charming."
Etienne Moreau-Nélaton, Delacroix raconté par lui-même, Paris, 1916, 1, p. 199-200, repr. 185.
Lee Johnson, The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix. A Critical Catalogue, volume III, Oxford, 1986, n° 425 ; volume IV, repr. n° 236.
Charles Baudelaire, Oeuvres complètes, volume II, Ed. Gallimard, Bibliothèque De la Pléïade, 2007.