Art News | Santa Barbara Museum of Art Presents "Delacroix and the Matter of Finish" | Page 2 | Art Week

Santa Barbara Museum of Art Presents "Delacroix and the Matter of Finish"

Share this


Santa Barbara, CA

August 12, 2013 – This important and beautiful international loan exhibition marks the first presentation on the celebrated French artist Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) in the United States in over a decade, and the first major monographic show devoted to the Romantic artist on the West coast. Featuring 27 paintings and 18 works on paper, the exhibition also showcases a previously unknown and unpublished version of Delacroix’s dramatic masterpiece, The Last Words of Marcus Aurelius, which recently surfaced in a Santa Barbara private collection. After several years of scholarly and technical study, the painting has now been authenticated by Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) Assistant Director and Chief Curator, Eik Kahng.

Delacroix is typically associated with Romanticism and thought of as its primary exponent ― i.e. the leader of an art movement that dominated French painting in the first half of the 19th century, characterized by the representation of extreme states of emotion through an expressive use of bold color in dynamic compositions. The artist’s most beloved images include the so-called “Orientalist” pictures, featuring exotic subjects such as The Fanatics of Tangier , featured in the exhibition, as well as his more overtly political allegories, the most famous of which is Liberty On the Barricades (1830–31, Musée du Louvre). Yet the artist was also drawn to dramatic moments in Greek and Roman history, and demonstrated a life-long fascination with the Stoic Roman philosopher-emperor, Marcus Aurelius.

Delacroix’s allegiance to classical subjects was the consequence of his deep admiration for the greatest art of the past, which the ambitious artist strove to surpass, especially in his public, large-scale decorations. At the same time, his restless search for the technical means to convey the vividness of the hallucinatory scenes of human drama played out in his mind’s inner eye―whether plucked from the pages of history, Homer, or the poetry of Lord Byron―make him one of the most innovative artists of the 19th century.
In the accompanying exhibition catalogue, curator Eik Kahng offers an extensive iconographic study of the sources for the subject of The Last Words of Marcus Aurelius, thereby reassessing the artist’s relationship to Romanticism’s supposed antithesis, Neoclassicism, and to artists such as Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805) and Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825), painters with whom Delacroix is not often compared.
Problems of attribution have long plagued Delacroix studies, particularly given the artist’s reliance on students as collaborators to support the most ambitious of public commissions, which included vast decorative cycles for the ceiling and walls of the Palais Bourbon and the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. Delacroix and the Matter of Finish is the first exhibition to invite side-by-side comparison between Delacroix’s paintings and the so-called “sketch-copies” by his closest students, Pierre Andrieu (1849–1935) and Louis de Planet (1814–1876), revealing a gulf in technical skill . The exhibition also offers a snapshot of the evolution of Delacroix’s painterly touch over the course of his rich career, from the relatively tight brushwork of Milton Dictating Paradise Lost to his Daughters (ca. 1827-28, Kunsthaus Zürich) to the explosive and almost abstract colorism of the last decades, as instanced by Winter. The artist’s willingness to allow for the “completion” of his “rough” painterly idea in the imagination of the viewer is a hallmark of the Romantic aesthetic and yet another play on the various connotations of the word “finish” in the exhibition’s title.

This exhibition, conceived by Dr. Kahng, is scheduled to travel to the Birmingham Museum of Art (on view February 23 – May 18, 2014) and represents the only other venue for the show. The 27 lenders for this exhibition include museums and private collectors throughout America, as well as distinguished institutions in Canada and Europe, including the Art Gallery of Ontario; the Honolulu Museum of Art; the Kunsthaus Zürich; the Kunstmuseum Basel; the Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris; the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon; the Musée du Vieux-Toulouse; the Musée national Eugène Delacroix, Paris; the Musée Fabre, Montpellier; and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.
This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of The van Asch van Wyck Trust; Elaine F. Stepanek Foundation; Alef Cultural Project Management; Tom and Charlene Marsh Family Foundation; The Dead Artists Society; Robert F. and Lois Erburu; SBMA Women’s Board; The Willfong Family Trust; Robert and Christine Emmons; John S. Newbery IV; Judith Hopkinson; and Sheila and Frank McGinity.

The accompanying, groundbreaking publication centers on a previously unknown variation of Eugène Delacroix’s (1798–1863) dramatic masterpiece The Last Words of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, published here for the first time. This book offers a compelling reassessment of the relationship of the artist, widely considered a primary exemplar of Romanticism, to Neoclassical themes, as demonstrated by his life-long fascination with the death of Marcus Aurelius.  Through this investigation, the authors reinterpret Delacroix’s lineage to such fellow artists as Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825).  Playing on the various interpretations of the word “finish,” the book also offers a fascinating account of Delacroix’s famously troubled collaboration with his studio assistants, his conflicted feelings about pedagogy, and his preoccupation with the fate of civilizations.  The catalogue features essays by Dr. Kahng; Marc Gotlieb, Director of the Graduate Program and Class of 1955 Memorial Professor of Art, Williams College; and Michèle Hannoosh, Professor of French, University of Michigan.
Related Programming
Sunday, November 3
Delacroix Symposium
Join us for a one-day symposium on the seminal issues raised by this special international loan exhibition. Renowned scholars in the field who will be presenting their research include Nina Athanssaglou-Kallmyer (University of Delaware), Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby (University of California, Berkeley), Margaret MacNamidhe (Independent Scholar), Anne Larue (University of Paris, 13), Marc Gotlieb (Williams College), and Claire Barry (Director of Conservation, Kimbell Art Museum). Their papers and ensuing discussions will address such topics as: The State of the Field: Delacroix Studies; Incorrectness and Delacroix: Liberty Again; Baudelaire’s Mistake? Faces and Figures in Delacroix, from Start to Finish; Lasalle-Bordes and Delacroix; Delacroix as a Bad Teacher; and the challenge of decoding Delacroix’s painterly technique and related problems of conservation.
To register, call805.884.6423or visit

iPad App
A customized App, available at tethered iPad stations in the exhibition space, allows users to zoom in and compare paintings in the exhibition and to related works of art in other museums throughout the world.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is a privately funded, not-for-profit institution that presents internationally recognized collections and exhibitions and a broad array of cultural and educational activities as well as travel opportunities around the world.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA.
Open Tuesday - Sunday 11 am to 5 pm, Chase Free Thursday Evenings 5 – 8 pm

Contact Information: 

Katrina Carl