Delacroix in Morocco

  • Posted on May 22, 2017 by

Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) visited Morocco from January through June of 1832. He was part of the diplomatic mission of Charles-Henri-Edgar, Comte de Mornay. He made drawings and annotations in seven sketchbooks during the trip. The Frick Art Reference Library has facsimiles of two of the sketchbooks. The facsimiles were made in 1909 (Musée du Louvre album), published by André Marty, Paris, and in 1913 (Chateau de Chantilly album), published by J. Terquem & Cie., Paris. Each facsimile is accompanied by an introductory volume with transcripts by the art historian Jean Guiffrey.

April 11, 1832. Le voyage de Eugène Delacroix au Maroc. Paris: André Marty, 1909
April 11, 1832. Le voyage de Eugène Delacroix au Maroc. Paris: André Marty, 1909

April 24, 1832. Le voyage de Eugène Delacroix au Maroc. Paris: J. Terquem & Cie, 1913

April 24, 1832. Le voyage de Eugène Delacroix au Maroc. Paris: J. Terquem & Cie, 1913

Coincidently, in 2010, The Frick Collection acquired Moroccan Interior, a small watercolor and gouache over graphite by Delacroix, as a gift from the estate of its former director Charles Ryskamp. This work on paper was probably cut from one of the aforementioned seven albums made by the artist during his time in Morocco.

Eugène Delacroix. Moroccan Interior (1832). The Frick Collection, New York. Photo: Michael Bodycomb 

Eugène Delacroix. Moroccan Interior (1832). The Frick Collection, New York. Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Delacroix is considered an Orientalist painter. This usually refers to a nineteenth-century genre of European Academic art that represents the Middle East, North Africa, South West Asia, and South East Asia. Delcroix is famous for paintings such as the eroticized and fantasized Women of Algiers.

Scholar Edward Said insisted in his seminal work Orientalism that Western representations of the Orient were tainted by an air of superiority that arose from colonialism. Delacroix, having been sent over to Africa as a colonial painter, seems to exemplify this viewpoint. An opposing viewpoint to this theory denies such a close relationship between art and politics, and emphasizes the role of individual taste and technological developments in directing culture. Historian John Mackenzie in his book Orientalism: History, Theory, and the Arts conveyed this counter argument, claiming that the Industrial Revolution in Europe was responsible for a sense of nostalgia that turned people’s attention towards the East. Admiration and longing for what they saw as lost, pure craftsmanship triggered Orientalism.

Eugène Delacroix, Women of Algiers, 1834. Musée du Louvre, Paris 

Eugène Delacroix, Women of Algiers, 1834. Musée du Louvre, Paris

The sketches in the Frick facsimile albums created by Delacroix during his time in Morocco and Moroccan Interior appear to adhere to the latter interpretation of Orientalism. This work on paper is free of violence, eroticism, or fantasy themes often seen in Orientalist art. It instead focuses on the beautiful architectural shapes that might have been previously unknown to the artist. Delacroix often includes color annotations—red, green, blue to ensure accuracy. Far from presenting a false image of the East, the delicacy of the small, personal drawings in his sketchbooks arguably conveys a sense of admiration.

However, Linda Nochlin’s essay “The Imaginary Orient” in her anthology The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth Century Art and Society argues that the seeming accuracy and realism of Orientalist paintings is precisely what makes them so problematic. In copying and documenting architectural surroundings with photographic precision, artists gave the impression that they were being authentic. This authenticity was often lost when they added figures in ancient costumes holding medieval instruments, falsely excluding the Orient from modernity. Nochlin argued that this contributed to the growing European misconceptions about the East.

Monica Lindsay-Perez, Intern, Frick Art Reference Library


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