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Study for Christ in the Garden of Olives

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)

© H. Bregeat/Louvre

Eugène Delacroix
(1798-1863)

Study for Christ in the Garden of Olives
Oil on canvas, c.1826
H. 32 cm; W. 40 cm
Purchased 2007
MD 2007-2

 

A controversial composition

Christ in the Garden of Olives - the large painting that still hangs in the left transept of the Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis church in the Marais district of Paris - was commissioned from Delacroix by the Prefect of the Seine, the Count de Chabrol, in 1824. The painting, measuring 2.94 m. by 3.62 m, was greeted with surprise when it was shown at the Salon of 1827, together with The Death of Sardanapalus. It is a strikingly original work in comparison with the many paintings that were commissioned from more conventional artists during that period to refurbish the churches that had been plundered during the Revolution. The ethereal group of three weeping angels, for example, famously compared by Delécluze to "English damsels," contrasts with the vigor of the rest of the composition. Paradoxically, Delacroix’s stated source of inspiration was the work of Zurbaran, that he had been able to admire in Marshal Soult’s collection. In his review of the painting, the perceptive art critic Théophile Thoré-Burger noted a similarity with Murillo. Other sources have suggested that that the painter Paul Huet contributed to the landscape.

An unpublished study

This study, the restoration of which revealed the artist’s signature, is a major discovery regarding our knowledge of the painting’s genesis. It contains a number of differences from the final version, such as Christ’s position and clothing - more theatrical in the final painting, in which the figure leans at a slant and wears more classical drapery. Other details are unchanged, however, such as the group of angels, the sleeping apostles in the left foreground, and the group of soldiers on the left, approaching by torchlight with Judas as their guide. This recently acquired study, done in preparation for a major painting by Eugène Delacroix, is particularly well suited to the spirit of a workshop, and completes the series of religious works already owned by the museum, notably the studies for the Virgin of the Sacred Heart (in Ajaccio cathedral) and for the Pietà in the church of Saint-Denis du Saint-Sacrement (actually a Visitation that corresponds to the original idea of 1841).

Documentation

Lee Johnson, The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix, a Critical Catalogue, Volume I, Oxford, 1986, n° 154.

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