TFERDINAND-EUGÈNE-VICTOR DELACROIX (French 1798 - 1863)
Charles VI and Odette de Champdivers, circa 1825
Oil on canvas
14 x 10-3/4 inches
Signed upper left, E. Delacroix
Jules-Alexandre Duval-le-Camus (1814-1878), Paris;
His sale, Maitre Petit, Paris, April 17-18, 1827, no. 38;
Frédéric Leblond, Paris, 1832;
Dumas-Descombes, by 1885;
Thence by descent to his son-in-law, M. Bouriel;
Comtesse Théobald de Vigneral, Paris, by 1964;
Private Collection, Paris, 1991;
Matthiesen Gallery, New York and London;
Richard L. Feigen, New York;
Property of a Gentleman
Théophile Silvestre, Histoire des Artistes Vivants Français et Étrangers. Études d'après nature (Paris: Blanchard, 1855), p. 80.
A. Moreau, Delacroix et son oeuvre (Paris: Librairie des Bibliophiles, 1873), p. 116. no. 17.
Alfred Robaut, L'oeuvre complet d'Eugène Delacroix (Paris: Charavay Freres, 1885), no. 137.
E. Moreau-Nelaton, Delacroix raconté par lui-meme, vol. 1 (Paris: Laurens, 1916), p. 141.
"Un Delacroix reapparait grâce a l'exposition du Louvre", Connaissance des Arts, no. 137 (July 1963), p. 21, illus.
M. Serullaz, "A Comment on the Delacroix Exhibition organized in England", Burlington Magazine, vol. 107 (1965), p. 366.
Lee Johnson, "Some Historical sketches by Delacroix", Burlington Magazine, vol. 115 (1973), p. 672, no. 1.
Lee Johnson, The paintings of Eugène Delacroix, vol. 1 (Oxford: University Printing House, 1981), p. 96; vol. 2, p. 96, illus., detail p. 85.
Lithograph by Maurin, Bibliographie de la France (March 11, 1826), p. 205, gravure 156.
Musée Colbert, Paris, "Explication des ouvrages de peinture (...)exposés à la galerie du Musée Colbert, le 6 mai 1832, par MM. les artistes, au profit des indigents (...) de Paris, atteints de la maladie épidémique", May 6, 1832, no. 144, loaned by M. Leblond.
École Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris, "Exposition Eugène Delacroix au profit de la souscription destinée à élèver à Paris un monument à sa memoire", March 6 - April 15 1885, no. 73.
Royal Scottish Academy, London Royal Academy of Arts, Edinburgh, "Delacroix. An exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Lithographs sponsored by the Edinburgh Festival Society and arranged by the Arts Council of Great Britain in Association with the Royal Scottish Academy", August 15 - September 13 and October 1 - November 8, 1964, no. 11.
Musée de l'Ain, Bourg-en-Bresse, "Le Style Troubadour", June 26 - October 4, 1971, no. 15.
Seventh Regiment Armory, New York, "International Fine Art Fair", May 7 - May 12, 1999.
Tate Gallery, London, "Constable to Delacroix: British Art and the French Romantics", February 5 - May 11, 2003, no. 62.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, "Crossing the Channel: British and French Painting in the Age of Romanticism", October 7, 2003 - January 4, 2004, no. 62.
This painting depicts an episode from the life of Charles VI (1368-1422), the tormented French king who was exhausted by his country's losses in the war with England and by his wife's infidelities. He also suffered from violent and uncontrolled fantasies in his own mind. In this scene, the distraught king reaches for his sword, which his attendants attempt to take from him. Charles turns to his mistress, Odette de Champdivers, who holds his hand and cautions him against his suicidal impulse.
Charles VI and Odette de Champdivers is an excellent example of the dramatic subject matter of Romanticism, which focused on such themes as suffering, insanity, violence, and death. In fact, Delacroix is considered the embodiment of the Romantic Movement and the last true history painter in Europe. His artistic virtuosity is evident in passages of richly colored clothing and textiles, which create a superb sense of tactility. The work is in its original frame and is also unlined, making it one of the finest Delacroix paintings to come on the art market in recent years.
The painting belongs to a series of similarly-sized pictures of historical and/or literary subjects that Delacroix created in the 1820s, describing them in his journal as "several little pictures, but all labors of love" (April 9, 1824) (The Journal of Eugene Delacroix, translated by Walter Pach (1980), p. 72). The life of Charles VI was an especially popular Romantic subject at the time: the Delaville play, Charles VI, opened in Paris on March 6, 1826; Maurin's lithograph of Delacroix's painting was published five days later on March 11, 1826. Considering the publication date of the lithograph, which was probably made shortly after Delacroix finished the painting, the work itself most likely dates to late 1825 (see Johnson, 1981, vol. 1, p. 97, in Literature above).
Note: In Johnson's catalogue entry for the work (op. cit., p. 96), the signature is incorrectly listed as in the "bottom right"; the signature is in black in the upper left corner of the painting.
An important scholarly catalogue inadvertently omitted from the literature on this painting by Eugène Delacroix is the fundamental work in English on the Troubadour School, Romance and Chivalry: History and Literature reflected in early 19th century French paintings, Nadia Tscherny et al, The Matthiesen Gallery, London, 1996, cat. no. 12, fig. 70 and 145. Doubling as an exhibition catalogue to a traveling show co-organized by The Matthiesen Gallery and Stair Sainty Matthiesen, Inc., this publication presented refreshing new perspectives on Delacroix's work as a history painter. Central to the discussion of the present painting within the book's larger context is how Delacroix approached and used historical props and costumes; how the painter's heightened sensitivity to the expressive and even erotic implications of exquisite fabrics helped to communicate his themes (in this case the relationship of the French king and his mistress); and why from an autobiographical point of view Delacroix chose the historical subjects he did.
As Tscherny explained: "Delacroix initially approached historical subject matter with the production of drawings and watercolors as antiquarian exercises, carefully researching the fabrics and objects. In the finished paintings, however he frequently departed from strict chronology choosing [instead] elements from past epochs that served to adorn his very personal imaginary world. He manipulated these elements (rich velvets and silks, for instance) for his own ends. . . .In Charles VI & Odette de Champdivers, the couple are seated before a sinuous Gothic ornament, the luxuriant pattern of silks and brocades surrounding them giving a feeling of heightened sensuality" (p. 224).
Further, the catalogue makes clear that Delacroix's understanding of the historical garments he chose was extremely keen. In the present work, "The King's costume is the result of painstaking care, which one small detail illustrates. The hose, although very smooth in texture, have exactly the right number of folds around the knees to indicate that they were made of woven wool cut and shaped to fit, and not knitted as in the sixteenth century" (p. 203). However, Delacroix was just as artful and effective at incorporating anachronistic couture when it lent particular significance to his subject. To wit: "The headdress worn by Odette de Champdivers, for example, is the sixteenth-century English gable-hood, seen in Holbein's portraits of ladies at the court of Henry VIII. Delacriox has depicted this complex structure, with its black velvet 'curtains' bundled up at the back, so carefully and authoritatively that its juxtaposition with an early fifteen-century gown appears natural. Its presence in the painting is perhaps the result of a surfeit of knowledge rather than the lack of it. . . . His work on the painting probably coincided with his designs of sixteenth-century costumes for Amy Robsart, Victor Hugo's dramatic adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's Kenilworth, and with his Faust lithographs, in which the gable-hood alternates with fifteenth-century hennins, worn with a variety of gown types. . . . He may have chosen the gable-hood simply because its form intrigued him, or because it has a small part to play in this ominous scene of barely averted violence. Odette de Champdivers was a Burgundian noblewoman at the French court. By endowing her with a headdress that was distinctly English, Delacroix may have been alluding to Burgundy's alliance with England in 1415, the year of Agincourt, and its devastating consequences for Charles VI" (pp. 204-205).
The publication also boldly draws parallels between Delacroix's own attitudes towards and involvement with women and the psycho-sexual dramas he liked to portray in his history paintings. As someone who never married but had numerous passionate affairs (frankly chronicled in his journals), Delacroix, "in Charles VI and Odette reveals a sense of insecurity and introspection in a historical setting that may have had a direct relationship to his own solitary existence" (p. 100).
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