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Delacroix’s palette and brushes

© RMN / H. Lewandowski

MD 2002-257
XIXe siècle
Wood
Gift of the Société des Amis du Musée Delacroix, 2002

This palette offers a look at the preliminary steps in creating a painting: selecting and preparing colors. Delacroix approached this process with great care: "My freshly arranged palette, brilliant with contrasting colors, is enough to fire my enthusiasm," he noted in his Journal in 1850.

This palette, which was donated by Léon Riesener’s granddaughter, is said to have belonged to the painter Fantin-Latour, to whom Delacroix had given it.

 

Delacroix’s care in arranging his palette

According to other artists, particularly Pierre Andrieu, it seems that when the painter was working on his major decorative projects, he spent a long time mixing various colors on his palette; he then transferred them to the edges of the canvas attached to his studio wall. For each of these colors, he carefully noted the composition and the intended purpose.

Another of his students and collaborators, Louis de Planet - who mostly worked on the large projects for the Library of the Palais Bourbon between 1838 and 1844 - collected Delacroix’s suggestions and advice in a work entitled Souvenirs de travaux de peinture avec M. Eugène Delacroix. For example, when "starting a piece," he recommended "you must begin with brushing on the basic color, then go over it with prepared colors. Hence... you first apply a yellow ocher or Naples yellow, etc.; then go over this layer with the colors mixed on the palette."

Delacroix’s Palettes by René Piot

The painter René Piot, who was Andrieu’s student, collected, in a book entitled Les Palettes de Delacroix (1930) all of Delacroix’s reflections on colors, color preparation, and especially, the arrangement of his colors on his palette, which he worked on meticulously until his health faltered. The various diagrams illustrating this book correspond to precise periods, from the early years in Guérin’s workshop to the paintings in the Chapelle des Saints-Anges in the Eglise Saint-Sulpice.

In the first section, the author demonstrates how Delacroix, who used planned combinations of tones prepared in advance, is the last XIXth century genuine representative of a long pictorial tradition. In the second section, Piot refers to Pierre Andrieu’s La Galerie Bruyas, published by Alfred Bruyas and Théophile Silvestre in 1876, in which he minutely analyzed ten palettes, which he then associated to some well-known paintings and murals. We learn how the painter, throughout his career, fragmented more and more the tones, focussing less and less on real color as opposed to shadows, halftones, and reflections.

The many articles and essays published by Delacroix underline that the artist has obivously always been deeply concerned with his palette until his death. He prepared it with great care and unflagging joy. According to René Piot, "when [Delacroix] was sick, he had it brought to his bed and would spend the entire day mixing new colors."

Homage to Delacroix

According to oral tradition, Delacroix gave this palette to Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904). Like Delacroix, Fantin-Latour paid a great deal of attention to the preparation of his palette. His admiration for the master was the inspiration for the canvas he painted soon after Delacroix’s death: Homage to Delacroix (Paris, Musée d’Orsay).

Documentation

Alfred Bruyas, La Galerie Bruyas, Paris, 1876.

Louis de Planet, Souvenirs de travaux de peinture avec M. Eugène Delacroix, Paris, 1929, pp. 75-76.

René Piot, Les palettes de Delacroix, Paris, 1931.

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