When Delacroix decided to give up his large studio on Rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, in the heart of the then fashionable Nouvelle-Athènes district, his choice of the Rue Furstenberg was largely due to the existence of a small garden for his exclusive use with the possibility of building a studio there. He would therefore be able to evolve in an oasis of greenery and calm set amid a lively district. The artist thus had his studio built in this garden of around 400 m2, hidden from the road. Just after moving in, he wrote in his Journal (December 28, 1857):
"My apartment is decidedly charming. I felt slightly melancholic after dinner to find myself uprooted once more. I gradually became reconciled with the idea and went to bed delighted. Woke up the next day to see the most gracious sun on the houses opposite my window. The view of my little garden and the cheerful appearance of my studio always make me happy."
Delacroix was a nature lover. His Journal and Correspondence recount his numerous sojourns in the countryside (including Champrosay, Augerville, Nohant, and Croze) or by the sea (Fécamp and Dieppe). The pull of nature is also borne out in his work. Indeed, from 1845 onward, the artist took up the study of nature for its own worth. George Sand, who witnessed his initial attempts, recalled an anecdote dating from one of the first times the master stayed in Nohant, in 1845:
"I saw Delacroix’s first attempts at painting flowers. He had studied botany in his youth, and as he was endowed with a remarkable memory he still remembered this (...). I stumbled upon him enraptured before a yellow lily whose handsome structure he had just grasped." (George Sand, Nouvelles lettres d’un voyageur, Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1877. Our translation.)
It was probably during one of these first trips to the novelist’s house, between 1848 and 1850, that Delacroix painted the Bouquet of Flowers (Paris, Musée du Louvre,), on loan to the Musée Eugène Delacroix. The museum also possesses a Study of Flowers, representing a poppy, a pansy, and an anemone, executed during the same period. It was also in February 1849 that Delacroix met the botanist Adrien de Jussieu (1797-1853), recording their conversation in his Journal. At this time, the artist’s writings revealed a virtually naturalistic curiosity with all natural things. Delacroix also worked on five floral compositions that he hoped to present to the 1849 Salon; in the end, he would exhibit only two of them, Basket of Flowers Overturned in a Park (New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Basket of Fruit in a Flower Garden (Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art), rectangular in format, in part more in keeping with the genre tradition, yet highly original.
A garden restored
With respect to the garden’s former state, the museum possesses a crucial document, an invoice headed "Garden memorandum for Monsieur Delacroix", dated November 16, 1857. Found among the papers of Achille Piron, the painter’s sole legatee, most of which were acquired by the archives of France’s National Museums Board at auction in 1997, it outlines a series of projects including soil rehabilitation, the cutting and pruning of existing flowerbeds and vines, the creation of flowerbeds edged with thyme, and the planting of all kinds of rose, gooseberry and strawberry bushes, as well as a number of trees. The aim was a varied, densely planted garden, but while the document points up Delacroix’s interest in its restoration, it provides no clear indication of its layout when he moved in, nor of the actual planting done. Nor do we have the least sketch to guide us. A historical recreation thus being a tricky matter, the initial renovation in 1999 was deliberately contemporary in character.
The new approach, however, is both more sensitive and more appropriate to the overall atmosphere. Fully financed by the Japanese company Kinoshita, the project reflects more closely the writings in which Delacroix speaks of his love of profuse country gardens. Drawing on the range of flowers to be found in the painter’s floral compositions and a closer reading of the relevant documents, the garden has regained its central role in this inspirational setting, on the same footing as the studio and the apartment.
Both the exhibition Flowers in Winter and the refurbishing of the garden were supported by KINOSHITA HOLDINGS CO., LTD.