As the years went by, partially for health reasons, the artist became increasingly reclusive from public life, only opening his door to a select few. Acclaimed during the Universal Exposition of 1855, during the last ten years of his life he would take part in only one Salon (1859), where his works attracted adverse criticism. At the opening of the Saints-Anges chapel in the church of Saint-Sulpice, Delacroix bitterly noted that the "officials" had spurned his invitation. At the same time, various young artists were discovering his art and appreciated its innovative character. Without actually looking to collect a following and without any real studio to speak of, Delacroix was to become a kind of spiritual master for them; some would even go as far as starting a cult following.
Delacroix, a cult artist
Baudelaire, for whom Delacroix was the modern artist par excellence, would sit on a bench in the Place de Furstenberg on the lookout for the artist who he would then follow without daring to approach directly. From the window of a neighboring building, Monet and Bazille would try to make out his shadow as he went about his business in his studio. Manet would ask for permission to copy the Barque of Dante (Lyon Musée des Beaux-Arts; New-York, Metropolitan Museum) in the Louvre. Fantin-Latour painted a Homage to Delacroix (Paris, Musée d’Orsay). Thus grew up a small set of admirers around the figure of Delacroix.
This tutelary image was to have a lasting effect on artists such as Cézanne, Degas, and Van Gogh, all three of whom copied his compositions. Cézanne worked fervently on an Apotheosis of Delacroix that he would never complete. He even delighted in singing the praises of the red of the oriental slippers in Women of Algiers (Paris, Musée du Louvre), comparing its savor to that of a glass of wine in the throat and readily asserting to anyone who cared to listen that "we all paint through him!" Degas, a collector of past works, brought together almost two hundred and fifty of the master’s paintings and drawings.
The Impressionists were also highly indebted to him. With his disjointed brushwork and palette of varied hues, Delacroix provided a foretaste of solutions that the open-air painters would adopt to convey the effects of light. This is apparent in some of his sky studies in watercolors or pastels, and in a small painting, the Sea at Dieppe (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Seurat and Signac studied Delacroix’s works and writings at length. Like him, they set their art between "mathematics and music," and in 1899 Signac even traced a direct line of descent in a treatise entitled From Eugène Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism. Moreover, Signac, like Maurice Denis, another great admirer of Delacroix, was one of the founding members of the Société des Amis d’ Eugène Delacroix, established in 1935 to save the studio on Place Furstenberg from being destroyed.
Delacroix in the twentieth century
The glorification of color and pure undiluted pigment so criticized by his contemporaries was at the dawn of the twentieth century to delight artists from the studios of Gustave Moreau, Matisse, Rouault, Camoin, or indeed Vlaminck, Derain, and Valtat. The painters nicknamed the "Fauves" by critics at the 1905 Fall Salon looked to and copied Delacroix. Matisse in particular went to Morocco, following in Delacroix’s footsteps: in Tangier, he drew the harbor’s panorama, recalling that this had been the inspiration for the background in Delacroix’s Entrance of the Crusaders into Constantinople (Paris, Musée du Louvre).
Among the great figures of the second half of the twentieth century we can mention Giorgio de Chirico who decided in the 1950s to copy past masterpieces and showed a particular interest in Delacroix, or indeed Jean Messagier who in 1963, the year that marked the centenary of the artist’s death, reinterpreted the Entrance of the Crusaders into Constantinople (Paris, Musée du Louvre) in a work that he considered to occupy an important place in his career. And finally there is Picasso, who in the 1950s undertook a different slant on Women of Algiers, which gave rise to his highly celebrated graphic and pictorial series.
We might conclude with a few words from Edouard Pignon that quite precisely resume the impact Delacroix had on his successors: "Delacroix is like a man who has amassed an immense fortune which his children then proceed to spend." Yet we could not do this without recalling the resounding success of certain works by Delacroix-Liberty leading the People (Paris, Musée du Louvre) springs to mind-whose symbolism has on so many occasions been "salvaged" by some revolutionary ideology in both France and abroad, and to which the French State paid a unique tribute by featuring Liberty alongside a portrait of the artist and a view of his studio on the 100 Franc banknote (withdrawn from circulation in March 1998).