Oil on canvas
H. 0.40 m; W. 0.32 m
MNR 999 *
This rather sulky-looking young man in a tam o’shanter was long thought to be Delacroix’s nephew, the elegant Charles de Verninac, who was only five years younger than the painter himself. However, it would appear to be the English artist Newton Fielding (1799 - 1856). He, his brother Thales (1793 - 1837), and Richard Parkes Bonington (1802 - 1828) were friends of Delacroix, with whom they worked from 1821 to 1826 on the techniques of engraving and watercolor, in which they excelled.
Delacroix’s posthumous sale catalog mentions the "Half-body portrait of a young man wearing a blue beret", but does not name the model. When Delacroix’s work was catalogued by Adolphe Moreau (in 1875) and Alfred Robaut (in 1885), this delicate portrait was thought to be that of Charles de Verninac, the painter’s beloved nephew and only son of his sister Henriette de Verninac. But the face in this portrait bears no resemblance to the three portraits of his young nephew that Delacroix painted around 1819, 1826, and 1829, which are all very similar. All three were bequeathed by the painter to Charles’s aunt, Madame Duriez, née Zélie de Verninac. It seems highly unlikely that Delacroix would have let this fourth portrait go on public sale after his death, considering the lifelong interest he took in portraits of his nephew.
Delacroix had an "English period" in the early 1820s, during which he made lasting friendships with young British artists: Bonington (whom he admired for his brilliance with watercolor), and the Fielding brothers-especially the "good" Thales, with whom he worked on engravings and watercolors and whose portrait he painted purchased by Delacroix museum in 2009, and Newton, with whom he shared the studio at 20 rue Jacob that was left vacant when Thales returned to England in the fall of 1824.
According to Lee Johnson, the model’s tam o’shanter is the decisive clue to the identity of Newton Fielding, who was very proud of his family’s Scottish origins-a subject which caused a quarrel with Delacroix: "[He] lived with the Fieldings," says Léon Riesener, "[...] But one day, the two friends fell out. Fielding said, very seriously, that he was a descendant of King Bruce, so Delacroix called him ‘Sire’. But Fielding could not take a joke on this subject" (Burty, Correspondance, 1878, p. xvii).
Newton stayed in Paris, where he illustrated books for Swiss publisher Jean François Ostervald. In 1827, he was appointed drawing master to the children of the Duc d’Orléans, the future king Louis-Philippe. He exhibited at the Salon and at the Musée Colbert, and specialized in watercolors and gouaches of animal subjects. He went back to England in the early 1830s, returning to Paris in 1855 in a state of considerable impoverishment. Delacroix demonstrated his loyalty to his friend with an act of generosity. "I cannot tell you how touched I am by the goodness of my old friends," wrote Newton Fielding in a letter of thanks to the painter (November 29, 1855).
The technical finesse and charm of this little figure in its picturesque outfit recall Delacroix’s portraits of the students at the Pension Goubaux made from 1824 to 1830), particularly the portrait of Richard-Auguste de la Hautière (acquired by the Musée Delacroix in 2000).
* N°6 on the list of works presented in 1972 to the representative of the Berlin State Museums by His Grace Heinrich Solbach of the Archbishopric of Magdeburg, and returned to France by Germany in 1994 (decree of August 3); on loan to the Musée Delacroix, 1996.
Lee Johnson, The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix. A Critical Catalogue, volume I, Oxford, 1986, n° 69 ; volume II, repr. 62.
Arlette Sérullaz, in Petit journal Exposition RMN, Œuvres restituées par l’Allemagne, musée d’Orsay, 1994, p. 7.
Barthélémy Jobert, « Il y a terriblement à gagner dans la société de ce luron-là » Les amis britanniques de Delacroix au temps de sa jeunesse, in Bulletin de la Société des Amis du musée Eugène Delacroix, 6, April 2008, p. 10 - 20.