Paul Huet, an old and close friend of Delacroix, shared his love of watercolor and ink wash, and sometimes worked with the artist’s favorite themes. Here, the confrontation between Faust and Mephistopheles, from the famous work by Goethe that inspired Delacroix to create a series of lithographs, along with several paintings and drawings.
When he was still very young, Paul Huet studied with Jean Deltil, a former student of David, and painted on Île Séguin. He then studied with Guérin, although he was put off by the latter’s academicism, then worked in Baron Gros’s studio starting in 1819. In 1822, he finally entered the Académie Suisse, where he met Delacroix. In 1845, the two friends met up at the then-fashionable thermal spa of Eaux-Bonnes in the Pyrenees. Together, they observed and interpreted on paper the effects of mist and sun on the mountains. After Delacroix’s death in 1863, Paul Huet delivered one of the two funeral orations at the Père-Lachaise cemetery.
Huet’s lifelong admiration for his older friend appeared in his works early in his career, which was also influenced by Géricault and above all, the English landscape painters, notably Bonington, with whom he became friends around 1826. Several years later, after discovering the sea at Honfleur and fascinated by the crashing surf, he made many studies of waves, which he used later for such large composition as Breakers at the Pointe de Granville (Paris, Musée du Louvre).
He started to become known in 1830. Sainte-Beuve wrote an enthusiastic article about him in the Globe: "Nature above all, nature in and of herself and in all varieties of hills, slopes, valleys, bell-towers in the distance and ruins; nature dominated by a lofty, deep and tumultuous sky; this is landscape as seen by Paul Huet …"
His dramatic landscapes reveal a tormented personality who needed violent contrasts to express himself. While Huet is the best overall representative of the romantic landscape, he was also a precursor. Some of his small works — paintings, watercolors, and pastels — recreate in a subtle way and with spare technique the sincere emotion of the artist in nature, and prefigure the work of artists such as Corot, Boudi,n or Jongkind. The Musée Delacroix has a watercolor by Paul Huet, The Black Rocks at Trouville, and exhibits, on a rotating basis, two pastels on loan from the Musée du Louvre’s Department of Prints and Drawings: Spring in Bagatelle and Autumn in Saint-Cloud.
In 1824, Delacroix starting thinking about illustrating Goethe’s play Faust, which was published in Germany in 1808 and translated for the first time into French in 1825 by Albert Stapfer. He completed this project between 1826 and 1827 when the publisher Charles Motte asked him for a series of 17 lithographs to illustrate the new French translation by Albert Stapfer. In 2004, the Musée Delacroix acquired five new Faust lithographs, adding to those of the same printed series (with the exception of one) already in the collection.