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Macbeth and the Witches

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)

© RMN / G. Blot

Eugène Delacroix
(1798-1863)

MD 1988-1
1825
Lithograph
Purchased, 1988
H. 0,330 m; L. 0,257 m

Ten years before his Hamlet series, Delacroix undertook a Shakespearean project for the first time with this work. This is Act IV, Scene I of Macbeth, when the three witches, questioned by Macbeth, conjure up spirits from their cauldron. The artist, who was constantly looking for new technical processes, used a scraper to create effects of light and the illusion of smoke.

 

According to Philippe Burty , Delacroix considered this print to be one of his finest. The work is certainly exceptional, not only because the artist was depicting a specific literary theme in engraving for the first time, but also and above all because it illustrates his immediate and remarkable technical mastery.

The theme illustrates Act IV, Scene I of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: the three witches are conjuring spirits from their caldron to predict Macbeth’s future. The ghostly nocturnal atmosphere is created by a technique known as contre-partie: Delacroix first covered his stone with an intense black, and then used a scraper to define the figures and objects. Hence, the witches appear out of the darkness and are intertwined with the smoke of the cauldron as if they were apparitions themselves. Macbeth, on the other hand, stands out more clearly against the background. The very fine scratch marks over his figure create the illusion of smoke and light emanating from the incandescent coals and the liquid boiling in the cauldron.

Until this point, Delacroix had virtually never worked with a Shakespearean text. A decade later, the English poet became one of his favorite sources of inspiration.

Documentation

Loys Delteil, Susan Strauber, Eugène Delacroix. The Graphic Work. A Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, 1997, p. 98.

Barthélémy Jobert, in Delacroix, le trait romantique, catalogue exposition Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 1998, p. 115, n°79.

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