Watercolor and black pencil on prepared paper
Studio stamp in red ink on lower right : (L.838a)
23.2 x 35 cm. (9 1/8 x 13 ¾ in.)
• S. M. Vose, Westminster Art Gallery, Providence, according to several labels on verso, including one numbered ’6131’
• Acquired from the above by Dorothy Dings Kohler, in 1970, according to a label on verso;
• Private Collection, Paris
• Arlette Serullaz, Edwart Vignot, Le bestiaire d’Eugène Delacroix, Paris, Citadelles & Mazenod, 2008
• Delacroix Drawings: the Karen B. Cohen Collection, exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, (Yale University Press) 2018
• Denis Milhau, Le rôle du dessin dans l’oeuvre de Delacroix, Paris, Ed. Musées nationaux, 1963
“He would spend entire days at the Botanical Gardens [Jardin des Plantes], where he would observe the animals in all their positions, he penetrated their movements, their form, in search of the dominant [traits] of their character […] It was these repeated observations, done with wisdom, conscience, determination, and the supreme understanding of genius, which made Delacroix the first among all animal painters.”
Although more than 8000 drawings came to light in his studio on the rue Fustenberg, Delacroix was better known among his contemporaries as a painter than a draughtsman. However he took great care of his drawings, which were indispensable tools in the realization of his paintings. Used with a very personal purpose for which he gave no explanation, it was also rare that he showed them. Souvenirs or preparatory sketches, these pages form an inexhaustable source of information about his obsessions and discoveries.
As can be seen in his many drawings of tigers, cats, and lions, felines exercised a particular fascination on Eugene Delacroix. Of course, he attentively observed Rubens’ works, including the famous tiger and lion hunts, and admired the master’s skill in rendering the nervousness of these felines. He had to observe them every minute to understand the way of life of his subjects. In a letter addressed to Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Delacroix even asked “permission to do studies from animals in the Menagery of the King’s Garden, and for that purpose, be introduced inside the building where they are kept during their meal time.” He painted them almost as human, with the same attention to portraiture. His Head of a Cat in which the originality of the profile pose recalls ancient medals reserved for great men is evidence of that attention.
The impulsiveness and rapid execution of our drawing reveals the feverish state which Delacroix entered when he studied felines. His skillfulness in transcribing the power of the animal’s limbs also evoke the hours spent observing these majestous creatures coming and going behind their bars. When one of them died, he sometimes even succeeded in being present for their dissection. When working with his friend, the animal sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye (Paris 1795-1875), Delacroix was equally interested in their anatomy in order to draw with precision. From the Saint-Cloud Menagery to the Jardin des Plantes, his oeuvre creates a close link between the History of Science and History of Art.
Preferring pen and wash, Delacroix used classical means of drawing on paper and innovated by using watercolor which was easy and quick to prepare, little known in France in the 1820s, and allowed him to convey all the expressive intensity he sought. Drawing is a sure means of taking into account several states in order to be able to retranscribe the purpose of the final work as precisely as possible. By sketching different lion positions on the same page, Delacroix captures the image from life, as the eye perceives it. He transcribes the suppleness and agility of these felines which present his eye with graceful poses which he had to immortalize.
“I believe that a simple drawing makes it possible to incubate, so to speak, and bring to light at the same time. In this small framework and with an execution that is somewhat summary, one can achieve the strongest emotion.”
A characteristic figure in French Romanticism, Eugene Delacroix’ drawings are also the vessel for expressing human feelings. The lions’ different attitudes express various emotions, such as tenderness, rage, as well as impulsive states, the illustration between the wild and tamed sides of human beings.