Lithograph; 2nd state
Gift of the Société des Amis d’Eugène Delacroix, 2002
H. 0,257 m; L. 0,190 m
Signed bottom right: Eug. Delacroix 1843
This print is part of a series Delacroix undertook between 1834 and 1843 to illustrate Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It depicts Act I, Scene V: Hamlet follows the ghost, who reveals his identity and the true circumstances of his death. He had been assassinated by his brother, with his wife as an accomplice. The specter demands vengeance on the part of his son.
The series of sixteen lithographs illustrating Hamlet, which Delacroix undertook on his own initiative in 1834, was an on-again, off-again undertaking. After starting, the artist interrupted his work in 1836, as he was too busy with his projects for the Palais Bourbon and the Palais du Luxembourg. According to his letters, he returned to the illustrations in the spring of 1842, perhaps motivated by health problems that restricted him to a less tiring activity. In June 1843, the first proofs, printed by Villain, were ready and Delacroix asked his friend Pierret to approach the publisher Gihaut. Of the sixteen compositions, the stones for which are also in the Musée National Eugène Delacroix, he selected just thirteen; the three eliminated scenes were nonetheless published after his death.
Hamlet sees the Ghost of his Father illustrates Scene V from Act I; two other scenes from this act also attracted the printmaker’s attention: The Queen Attempts to Console Hamlet (Scene II) and Hamlet Tries to Follow His Father’s Ghost (Scene IV). Delacroix concentrated on the first part of the scene, when Hamlet recognizes his father, but the postures of the two figures could also refer to the moment when the specter bids farewell to Hamlet (the excerpt used initially was taken from both passages). The composition used here reappears in almost all the prints: two or three figures, rarely more, in a setting pared down to its bare essentials, and a close-up view of the figures so as to focus on the expressions and poses.
Despite Delacroix’s efforts, the series drew negative criticism. Today, they are now considered to be among the artist’s most important creations, one of the works into which he poured his soul.
Loys Delteil, Susan Strauber, Eugène Delacroix. The Graphic Work. A Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, 1997, n°105, p. 260.
Barthélémy Jobert, in Delacroix, le trait romantique, catalogue exposition Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 1998, p. 119, n°120 a.