Rediscovering French Masters: Corot and Delacroix at the Louvre


My grand-niece and I entered a room at the Louvre, looking for another artist, and encountered the galleries devoted to Corot. One thinks one "knows" Corot from familiarity, but instantly, I was struck by how fresh and beautiful his work is, especially, as far as colour is concerned. The architecture of his works, whether landscape, cityscape, or portrait, is so solid, so anchored. I can think of no other artist who can make one feel so confidently paced in space, other than Hans Holbein.

My 14 year old grand-niece was particularly taken with his work, and kept returning to certain pieces, for a second look. It was delightful to notice, as others did, her resemblance to Corot's models. Someone passing by said, "It's enough of a resemblance to be a relation."

I am constantly seeing facsimiles of famous artist's models in contemporary society. From Italian women holding chubby babies in their laps (think Raphael), to young male German tourists, (think Dürer), or, the young girl with dark eyebrows and large eyes at the check-out counter (think Matisse), to the light and colour of landscapes, (Constable), seascapes, (Turner, Monet, Gericault, Delacroix, et al), one is constantly reminded of the special qualities of life and nature artists have chosen to point out to us.

In one of the galleries, mostly devoted to Corot, there were two striking pictures, almost side by side. One, a watercolour study for Gericault's Raft of Medusa, the other, a painting by Delacroix, Orphan Girl in the Cemetery. Both works resonated as we later entered the Grand Gallery and saw the huge painting by Gericault which we could compare with the compositional study seen earlier. And then, Delacroix: The Massacre at Schio, which features a young boy figure based on the Orphan Girl..the painting is especially poignant in view of the atrocities playing out in the Middle East this summer.

With all it's technical flaws, the very monumental painting, The Death of Sardonapolis is still a stupendous picture to look at. The composition is so dramatically different from everything else around it, the drama, or, melodrama so heightened, that one can understand how controversial it was when it hung in the Salon as one of Delacroix's first entries onto the art scene. The other large Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, held up very well as an iconic image. And, as we left, I glanced at the composition and colour of the monumental David paintings and realized what a leap into the modern world Delacroix had made with his compositions and his colour.

Even with his large overhead mural, Apollo Vanquishing the Serpent Python, 1850-51, in the Apollo Gallery, surrounded by Baroque sculpture and painting from the reign of Louis XIV, he managed to hold his own originality. Because it is a late work, and an official commission, his style is more harmonious with the setting, but loses nothing of the energy of his dramatic composition. The colour is overwhelming, other works in the gallery are dull by comparison. He holds his own, over a 150 plus years later.

There is much still left to learn from the Masters, and still much "unfinished business" of ideas and forms for present and future artists.

©Margaret Koscielny, October 1-2, 2014