Subtitle: Reading lesson
Oil on canvas
H. 95,4 ; L. 124,9 cm
Signed and dated bottom left: Eug. Delacroix, 1842
Delacoix painted this canvas during his first trip to the Berry region, where he stayed in Nohant with George Sand (1804-1876) in June 1842. This canvas is one of the major paintings in the corpus of his religiously inspired works.
Delacroix portrayed the subject with great simplicity, centering the composition on the two monumental figures of Saint Anne and the Virgin, which stand out against a background of a landscape, quite probably inspired from the foliage in the Nohant garden.
Delacroix painted this canvas in June 1842 during his first trip to visit George Sand in Nohant; he intended to give it to the village church, whose patron was Saint Anne. He had arrived, in his own words, with the intention of doing nothing, but the painter soon felt a need to get back to work. "I am going to have some fun with the son of the house, undertaking a small painting for the church" (Joubin, Corresondance, letter to J.-B. Pierret, 7 June 1842).
As he didn’t have any canvas available, Delacroix asked the novelist’s son, Maurice, to whom he was giving painting lessons, to help him make one from drill that George Sand used for her corsets. He then had the necessary paint sent quickly from Paris.
As for the theme, he was inspired by a scene he witnessed during one of his walks: "As I was entering the garden, I just saw the subject for a superb painting, a scene that affected me considerably. It was your farmer with her small daughter. I could watch them as much as I wanted from behind a shrub, where they couldn’t see me. They were both sitting on a tree trunk. The old woman had her hand on the shoulder of the child, who was attentively learning a reading lesson."
This painting is the most famous memento of the friendship between Delacroix and George Sand. Delacroix made several trips to Nohant, the first in 1842. We know that he liked the free-flowing and friendly atmosphere that reigned in this home. We also know that he often drew on the optimism and energy of the lady of Nohant when he fell prey to self-doubt or illness. And George Sand, for her part, considered Delacroix to be "one of the best in the history of painting."
With Sand’s approval, Delacroix submitted The Education of the Virgin to the jury of the 1845 Salon. The work was not accepted and was returned to Nohant. One year after Delacroix’s death, financial problems forced George Sand to part with it: she didn’t rest until she had convinced Edouard Rodrigues (1796-1878), a stockbroker by profession and informed art collector, to purchase it, which he finally did for the sum of 5,000 francs.
Delacroix’s The Education of the Virgin holds a special place among the religiously inspired canvases he painted throughout his career, from the Virgin of the Harvest in the Église Orcemont (1819) to the Chapelle des Saints-Anges in the Église Saint-Sulpice in Paris (1861). Delacroix returned to this theme in 1853 with a smaller format (Tokyo, National Museum of Western Art), and altered the overall composition of the scene considerably.
The Education of the Virgin entered the Musée Delacoix collection in 2003.
Lee Johnson, The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix. A Critical Catalogue, Volume III, Oxford, 1986, n° 426, pl. 234; Fourth Supplement and Reprint of Third Supplement, Oxford, 2002, p.334, n° 426.
Arlette Sérullaz, « L’Education de la Vierge de Delacroix entre au musée national Eugène Delacroix », in Revue du Louvre, 1, 2004, p. 17-19.
Arlette Sérullaz, in George Sand, une nature d’artiste, catalogue exposition, Paris, musée de la Vie romantique, 2004, p.84-85, n° 75, repr.