Delacroix and Sculpture.
--Delacroix, "Des Variations du beau" (Ecrits sur l'art 43)
Delacroix's views on sculpture were deeply ambivalent. On the one hand, we have the often unfavorable remarks of the Journal: he rails against the poverty of modern sculpture, its lack of originality, its slavish imitation of the antique, the meager forms and subjects at its disposal; he vituperates against the importation of a sculptural model into painting, notably in the form of Davidian neoclassicism or the Ingrist academic ideal. He has harsh comments about the sculpture of even those practitioners whom he admired: he "would have liked to be more positive" about his friend Preault's Cavalier gaulois on the Pont d'Iena (20 March 1854); (1) Barye, equally a friend, is "mesquin" in composing his lions, too naturalistic (15 January 1857); even David d'Angers, whom Delacroix calls "the foremost sculptor of our rime" (Correspondance generale 3: 373), falls victim to the general "want" with his statue of Marechal Drouot in Nancy, "veritable heros dans tous les sens, mais pitoyablement represente comme tous les heros de notre temps, grace a l'indigence de la sculpture" (19 August 1857) --not to mention those whom he disliked, such as Clesinger, whose infamous Femme piquee par un serpent (figs. 18, 30) he considered a "daguerreotype en sculpture" (7 May 1847). Nor does he spare a great master of the sculptural tradition, Michelangelo: "Je me suis dit souvent qu'il etait, quoi qu'il put croire lui-meme, plus peintre que sculpteur" (9 Ma), 1853). On the other hand, Delacroix was an assiduous student of sculpture, which he copied constantly, from ancient examples to modern; he was fascinated by medieval and Renaissance sculpture, particularly funerary sculpture, which he not only copied but also analyzed at length in the Journal and in his notebooks; to his own astonishment, he was "dazzled" by the sculptures on the Strasbourg cathedral which made him suddenly appreciate the gothic and, more generally, convinced him of what subsequently became the dominant idea of his late aesthetics--the variability of beauty, its connection with the sentiment, ideas and forms of a particular time--, an idea not unrelated to the "relative, circumstantial element" by which Baudelaire justified the beauty of modern life.
This last comparison may not be as outlandish as it seems. Scrawled across the top of a page of the manuscript of Delacroix's Journal for 17 March 1857, the words "Pour le beau moderne" preserve what had been, until recently, the only trace of an essay, never completed, on the "modern beautiful." (2) Over the course of the following months, the project evolved considerably, resulting in an article on an apparently different subject altogether--"Des Variations du beau," published in the Revue des Deux Mondes of 15 June that same year. (3) But two new notebooks, discovered in a private collection, contain his ideas for the abandoned essay, to which he gives the tentative title Reflexions sur le beau et en particulier sur le beau moderne. (4) Some of these notes, indeed whole portions of text, Delacroix recycled into the published "Des Variations du beau"; others he simply abandoned as being no longer germane to the new subject.
Unfinished, irregular, multifarious, the notes range widely, making forays into numerous fields, wandering off in one direction then abruptly changing course, as Delacroix seeks to define, and perhaps contain, a diffuse and unruly subject. The notebooks overlap and diverge, the earlier one, in pencil, emphasizing the difference between ancient and modern mores through a long discussion of the theatre; the later one, in ink, focusing more on the other arts. Indeed one of the most interesting things about them is that they comprise what is arguably Delacroix's most sustained discussion of sculpture: for the question of the modern beautiful is treated in terms of a comparison of the arts--the "essentially modern" arts of painting and music on the one hand, the "essentially ancient" art of sculpture on the other. Although Delacroix had published articles on sculptors--Michelangelo and Puget--, and references to sculpture are scattered throughout the Journal, only in these notes does he specifically attempt to establish the place of sculpture within a modern aesthetic and to determine the reasons for this; only here does he try to set out a philosophical justification for the status of sculpture in the history of art. In its materials, its formal relation to the antique, and, especially, the sphere of its expression, sculpture, for Delacroix, is an "ancient" art, uniquely suited to the society in which it flourished: a society which raised the human form, that "eternal poem," to the level of a cult; in which life was "externalized," conducted in the forum, in the circuses, in the theatres exposed to the elements; in which the sensual experience of matter was valued and art executed in great, broad lines, "a grands traits," rather than in fastidious detail.
This division was not in itself unusual and owed much to earlier theorists. In his emphasis on the formal means and features of sculpture as compared to those of painting, a tradition going back to the paragone of the Italian Renaissance, Delacroix reflects the ideas of two of his most habitual sources, Diderot and, especially, Joshua Reynolds; his emphasis on cultural values and mores is reminiscent of Winckelmann's. (5) As we follow the argument of these notes, however, and confront them with the Journal, the picture becomes denser, more complicated and complex: indeed, as I shall propose here, the combined experience of writing, viewing, and writing about viewing leads Delacroix beyond this division to a kind of double discovery. Firstly, in exploring the "ancient" art of sculpture and the "modern" art of painting, he comes to conceive of the possibility of a paradoxically authentic "modern" sculpture, one which strikes the imagination with a force equal to that of the ancients. Secondly, this process has important implications for his concept of painting too. For Delacroix's reflections on sculpture, even the most severely critical ones, lead him to imagine a kind of painting which would be the equivalent of ancient sculpture: a painting imbued with the same force, grandeur and immediacy; the same ability to communicate in its roughest, sketchiest state the clear idea of its final, complete form; the same method of proceeding by mass, building up the image from within rather than by fixing its contour and filling it in. This conception of painting, derived, as we shall see, from sculptural modeling, is precisely that colorist painting which he sets as an ideal for his own.
It is perhaps for these reasons that the project ultimately "fails," as Delacroix constantly runs up against contradictions and discrepancies in his system. If his solution for the article is to abandon the neat division between "ancient" and "modern," "sculpture" and "painting," and to recast his thesis altogether so as to argue for the "variations of the beautiful," the Journal, for its part, offers a more personally significant answer: in it, Delacroix pursues what is essentially different about sculpture--its "antiquity" and its distinctness from painting --to shed light on the "modern" and on painting itself. (6) The abortive project on sculpture leads him to formulate a new conception of the fundamentally sculptural nature of the ideal modern--that is to say, colorist--painting.
"ON NE PEUT DEMANDER L'ILLUSION a LA SCULPTURE; SON GENIE EN EST L'OPPOSE." ("CALEPIN AU CRAYON" 2)
Delacroix's association of sculpture with antiquity, and painting with modernity is based less on a historical argument (although he does invoke this)--the relatively late development of oil painting--than on a cultural one: the relation between the medium of each art and the societies in which they flourished. As Diderot and Reynolds had underlined before him, the solidity of its materials--stone, bronze, marble--makes sculpture an art of "sobriety," "severity," "seriousness," "gravity." (7) The ideal objects of its representation are forms, not details, abstract ideas or "literary" meanings. In their three dimensionality, the figures of sculpture exist in isolation; immobile, they cannot naturally convey movement. They are, on the other hand, a real, "positive" presence: sculpture is "imposing" conveying its meaning through the form itself. Once again, Delacroix here takes his cue from Reynolds, for whom the greatness of a work of sculpture comes from "beauty of form alone," its grace, character, and expression from "form and attitude" rather than from "illusion," "fancy," "caprice," or the "picturesque" (Discourses 10: 176, 177, 180, 187). As early as 1830, Delacroix had maintained with regard to Michelangelo's allegorical figures of the times of day for the Medici chapel, that without a guide or a book to explain them, we would never divine their "literary" or anecdotal meaning--"comment [peut-on], en sculpture, representer le crepuscule, par exemple?" Nor, in his view, is such a meaning important; instead the figures play a crucial role, as forms, in the architecture: "Le caractere en est si imposant, et satisfait a tel point l'imagination par l'ensemble qu'elles forment entre elles, que l'idee ne vient pas de leur chercher une intention raffinee" ("Michel-Ange," Ecrits sur l'art 111).
Delacroix did not attach value judgments to these categories: "ancient" did not mean "outdated" and "bad," and "modern" "relevant" and "good"--or vice versa. The antique could certainly be appreciated by modern eyes: "I'antique est plein de la grace sans affeterie de la nature; rien ne choque; on ne regrette rien; il ne manque rien et il n'y a rien de trop. Il n'y a aucun exemple chez les modernes d'un art pareil" (23 February 1858). Yet the moderns have a different, if equal, means of interesting the viewer, as he asserts in rereading this same note two years later: they delight by their very "imperfection" relative to the antique, their "piquant" quality, inspiring not "admiration" but "charm," not "tranquillity" but a pleasure tinged with a certain agitation. Nor is either art inadequate relative to the other; each has its own conventions appropriate to it, due to the materials and conditions of its execution:
La sculpture a sa convention comme la peinture et la gravure. On n'est point choque de la froideur qui semblerait devoir resulter de la couleur uniforme des matieres qu'elle emploie, que ce soit le marbre, le bois, la pierre, l'ivoire, etc.--Le defaut de coloration des yeux, des cheveux, etc. n'est pas un obstacle au genre d'expression que comporte cet art. L'isolement des figures de ronde-bosse, sans rapport avec un fond quelconque, la convention bien autrement forte des bas-reliefs n'y nuisent pas davantage. (16 January 1857)
Like Winckelmann, Delacroix associates the sculptural genius of form with the ancient world: the cult of the human form, especially, developed in a society in which one encountered it in the activities of daily life, in the streets, the gymnasium, the public baths, where one could sketch on the spot the simple, natural attitudes that the modern sculptor so despairingly seeks in a studio model. (8) Unlike his predecessors, however, he attributes this primarily to religion: "La religion chez les anciens donnait une ample carriere au sculpteur, et chez les modernes elle leur presente partout des bornes et des entraves." ("Calepin a l'encre" 3) The Greek liberal mind, in particular, gave life and warmth to the frozen images of the Egyptian hieratic tradition (23 February 1858). Paganism among the Greeks was, as Delacroix characterizes it, a religion of "exteriority," its concept of godliness located in external form: the human form and that of the gods were one and the same. "La vie exterieure etait divinisee sous la forme de ces Venus, de ces Hercule, de ces Apollon": statues of the gods were "divinised" forms of people in their ordinary poses and routine activities, and external life was equally invested with the divine ("Calepin a l'encre" 3). (9) In its essence, although not always in its practice, sculpture presents an art of "exteriority" consonant with this. As a positive art, it is unsuited, on the one hand, to the realm of illusion and, on the other hand, to emotion, vagueness, and passion.
"Le christianisme, au contraire, appelle la vie en-dedans." The shift to interiority makes Christianity, in Delacroix's view, "la source de la modification la plus frappante qui s'est operee dans la maniere de rechercher et de sentir le beau" ("Calepin a l'encre" 1, 3). Interiority is the domain of painting and music, highly expressive arts whose matter and formal means are proper to the rendering of emotion, passion, and intimacy: (10)
[...] les aspirations de l'ame, le renoncement aux sens sont difficiles a exprimer par le marbre et la pierre. Ce role, la peinture l'a pu prendre sans peine. Il faut aux vierges de Raphael ce regard pudique et voile, cette rougeur chaste que la sculpture ne peut exprimer. Nous desirons dans cette Pieta sculptee de Michel-Ange, ce regard desespere de la mere; cette paleur de la mort dans le corps du sauveur et le sang de ses blessures divines; nous cherchons meme autour de lui cette croix, ce sombre Golgotha, ce tombeau entr'ouvert, ces disciples fideles. ("Calepin a l'encre" 3) (11)
In the theoretical tradition, the association of painting with emotion and the inner life is grounded in its status as an art of illusion, representing what is not "actually" there, and thus relying on the imagination. The wide variety of formal means at its disposal (which sculpture neither has nor needs) compensates, in one sense, for this essential lack and, in another sense, provides the occasion for complex and varied effects. In the suppleness of its line, its use of perspective and depth, its reliance on color, chiaroscuro and reflection, painting can express movement, variety and, of course, light.
The multiple effects available to painting are cited by all the major writers on sculpture. (12) Delacroix concentrates especially on landscape, setting, and atmosphere, which can convey an unequalled emotional charge. His discussion of Gerard's Belisarius provides an illuminating example. While he is in fact contrasting two types of painting--David's "sculptural" neoclassicism and Gerard's "painterly" romanticism--, his analysis of the latter brings out the greater effect possible in painting. In Gerard's work, Delacroix argues, the emotional interest of the painting is centered on a single accessory, the snake coiled round the leg of the young guide whom Belisarius carries. It makes the viewer realize that the exhausted guide, shouldered by the old hero whom he is meant to be assisting, is not merely overcome with fatigue, but is actually dying:
Le spectateur tremble. Belisaire est cense ne point voir l'horrible reptile dont il va bientot sentir lui venir les atteintes. L'auteur ne s'est pas contente de cette image menacante: l'illustre infortune cotoie un precipice sans s'en douter; la nuit va commencer; toutes les horreurs de la solitude et de l'abandon, si ce n'est une mort affreuse, vont se reunir pour rendre sa perte inevitable. ("Calepin a l'encre" 5-6)
However well chosen, the accessory does not actually account for the effect. Indeed, while the coiled snake could be present equally in a painting or sculpture, provoking in the viewer a tragic, but largely anecdotal, recognition of the hero's destiny, only painting has the means to transform this into a kind of sublime dread. The cliff, nightfall, the suggestion of solitude and abandonment --representable in painting alone--combine to provoke the viewer's shudder at the hero's impending doom; the merely "threatening" image becomes one of cosmic inevitability.
Not that sculpture should try to achieve these effects--for Delacroix, quite the contrary: "Il faut que l'art triomphe avec les moyens qui lui sont propres" ("Calepin a l'encre" 2). The perfection of each art would be the point where the medium and message coincide; the attempt to splice one into the other leads to an abomination: "Quand les sculpteurs modernes se sont permis des groupes compliques, croyant se rapprocher de cet esprit moderne qui demande de l'emotion, du mouvement, des expressions variees, ils sont sortis des bornes legitimes et ont ete plus pres du ridicule que du sublime" ("Calepin a l'encre" 3). Delacroix takes as his example a work of Pierre Puget's, a sculptor whom he greatly admired and to whom he had already devoted two essays in 1844 and 1845. Puget's bas-relief of Alexander and Diogenes depicts the moment when Alexander the Great, seeing Diogenes the Cynic sitting in the sun, stands before him and challenges him to ask a favor, something the ruler of the world thought that no man, however unworldly, could refuse; Diogenes' reply is an impertinent "Get out of my light." Delacroix's analysis concentrates on the essential impossibility of conveying this subject in sculpture. For all its energy and verve, for all the force and intelligence of the sculptor, he argues, the work is a kind of monstrosity, a sculpture trying to be a painting, or trying to render a subject which can only be rendered in painting or poetry:
L'artiste a voulu peindre (le mot m'echappe), peindre avec son marbre et son ciseau, les drapeaux agites, le ciel, les nuages autour de ces personnages, lesquels sont groupes comme dans un tableau et avec les attitudes les plus diverses. Il semble qu'il ait voulu faire entendre, si l'art pouvait aller jusque-la, les cris de la foule et le bruit des trompettes: mais ce que son art ne lui permit pas davantage, c'est d'arriver a faire comprendre son sujet, dont tout l'interet reside uniquement dans le mot insolent adresse au conquerant par l'enfant de Sinope. (13)
Delacroix does hOt mean simply that language, Diogenes' words, cannot be expressed in stone--painting, too, would be incapable of expressing language in this way. But painting's capacity to render light and shade enables it to represent the content of Diogene's statement to Alexander, which sculpture cannot:
Si le grand Puget eut eu (14) autant d'esprit que de verve et de science, qualites dont son ouvrage est rempli, il se fut apercu, avant de prendre l'ebauchoir, que son sujet etait le plus etrange que la sculpture put choisir; dans cet entassement d'hommes, d'armes, de chevaux et meme d'edifices, il a oublie qu'il ne pouvait introduire l'acteur le plus essentiel, ce rayon de soleil intercepte par Alexandre et sans lequel la composition n'a pas de sens. ("Des Variations du beau" 44-45) (15)
Thus the viewer surveys (and no doubt admires) the details, searching in vain for the meaning of this "enigma in stone"--the essential character, the ray of sunlight--, and ends up feeling merely confused ("Calepin a l'encre" 4). In the notes, Delacroix evokes another example which, while less clear-cut than this one, still reflects the same problem of the mismatch between subject and means: "Quelle a du etre la douleur de l'un des eminents sculpteurs de notre temps, quand, se trouvant charge de representer une suite de bas-reliefs dans le monument de l'empereur Napoleon, on lui a donne des sujets comme ceux-ci: La Creation du Conseil d'Etat, La Cour des Comptes, et le plus curieux de tous, L'Administration francaise [...]" ("Calepin a l'encre" 4). (16)
Delacroix sees sculpture's forays into the domain of painting as a response to cultural change, an (excusable) attempt to renew for the modern era an art which is perfectly consonant with the values, mores and spirit, rather, of antiquity: the sculptor faces a difficult challenge, since the subjects proper to the art are "too serious for our passionate or frivolous age," for our private, narrow mores and the almost fastidious refinement of our tastes. The reverse, however, is not the case. Modern painting aspires to be sculpture through a misguided ideology:
Mais que direz-vous de ces peintres qui, amoureux de l'antique jusqu'au fanatisme, se sont prives volontairement des moyens que leur offre leur art charmant, et l'ont attriste comme a plaisir par l'imitation outree de la statuaire. Animee par le motif le plus louable, celui de rendre a la peinture une grandeur et une simplicite dont les peintres du dernier siecle s'etaient de plus en plus ecartes, une ecole toute entiere s'est eprise de l'antique, non pas seulement de son esprit mais de sa forme meme, qu'elle a fait passer dans les tableaux, negligeant ainsi les qualites propres de la peinture, la variete dans la composition, la souplesse du dessin, l'art de faire fuir les plans, la couleur, le clair-obscur. C'etait faire violence a l'esprit des temps et a la tradition: en un mot c'etait sortir de l'art lui-meme. ("Calepin a l'encre" 4-5)
Delacroix analyzes David's Belisarius in this light, contrasting it with Gerard's. While the subject is poetic and interesting--the illustrious warrior reduced to the condition of beggar, deprived of his sight by the tyrant to whom he had devoted his services and forced to rely on a weak child--David's work, "conceived as a bas-relief," contains little for our emotions:
L'execution, parfaite dans le sens de l'ecole, n'offre rien de ce prestige qui peut poetiser les plus simples details. Le Belisaire est un vieillard vulgaire: l'enfant a la grace de son age mais ne dit rien a l'esprit. Rien, meme dans le personnage du soldat qui contemple son general reduit a cet abaissement, rien qui inspire la pitie, si ce n'est celle que l'on peut ressentir pour un mendiant [...]. La forme est correcte, le dessin est pur, l'etude de chaque partie est consciencieuse mais il n'y a rien pour le sentiment, rien pour l'imagination. ("Calepin a l'encre" 4-5)
As we have seen, Gerard's, in contrast, brings out the poetic quality of the subject, its pathos, through the means proper to painting--notably the landscape, setting, and atmosphere--and is thus more consistent with the modern spirit to which painting is especially suited. To the neoclassical and academic painters, those "exclusive partisans of form and contour," creators of a painting imitative of sculpture, Delacroix addresses a note in the Journal of 1853:
Les sculpteurs vous sont superieurs. En etablissant la forme, ils remplissent toutes les conditions de leur art. Ils recherchent egalement, comme les partisans du contour, la noblesse des formes et de l'arrangement. Vous ne modelez pas, puisque vous meconnaissez le clair-obscur, qui ne vit que des rapports de la lumiere et de l'ombre etablis avec justesse. Avec vos ciels couleur d'ardoise, avec vos chairs mates et sans reflets, vous ne pouvez produire la saillie. Quant a la couleur qui est partie
de la peinture, vous faites semblant de la mepriser, et pour cause. (27 March) For all its emphasis on the sculptural, neoclassical painting fails to be truly so: "vous ne modelez pas." By realising the potential of their art, in contrast, sculptors surpass in expression, through an art by nature "rebellious" to that very expression, painting, that art to which expression should come, as it were, naturally.
"SCULPTURE MODERNE. SA DIFFICULTE APRES LES ANCIENS" (11 JANUARY 1857)
Although Delacroix often suggests that a truly "modern" sculpture is problematic, given the association of that art with antiquity and the perfection achieved in it by the ancients, his experience of, first, Renaissance and, then, gothic sculpture makes him change his mind. His admiration of Renaissance sculpture runs throughout the later Journal and is recorded equally by his pupils: his assistant Pierre Andrieu, for example, reports in his own diary for 1852 a visit to the Renaissance sculptures in the Louvre--those of Jean Goujon, Germain Pilon, Puget--which Delacroix preferred to the painting of the same period. In the Journal, Delacroix himself discussed Goujon's tomb of Louis de Breze in the Rouen cathedral: "Tout en est admirable, et en premiere ligne la statue. Les merites de l'antique s'y trouvent reunis au je ne sais quoi moderne, a la grace de la Renaissance" (6 October 1849). Indeed Renaissance sculpture, in which fantasy and fine execution come together, is for him one of the rare examples where French art is the equal of Italian. (17) In Baden-Baden in 1855, he admires--and sketches--two "magnificent" Renaissance tombs in the church, that of the bishop of Utrecht, Frederick iv, and that of the margrave Bernard iii. This experience is particularly powerful, as he recalls it later that day in his notebook while walking among the outstanding scenery of the mountains:
J'avais ete auparavant dessiner des tombeaux dans l'eglise. Le souvenir de ces ouvrages de l'art n'a pas laisse de m'accompagner et de se disputer mon ame pendant que j'admirais ces grands ouvrages de la nature. L'art est-il donc aussi puissant? Oui, sans doute! (18)
The tombs are "artistic," with a "unity of effect," in contrast to more recent ones which are "raides, secs, froids, et sans grace" ("carnet de Bade/Strasbourg"). With the gothic, Delacroix goes even further: seeing the statues on the Strasbourg cathedral in 1855, not only is he enchanted by a style which he had formerly scorned, but he also becomes convinced of the possibility of a modern sculpture. Over the course of three days, he records the evolution of his feelings as he draws from sculptures of the different periods represented on the facade:
(29 September) Passe une partie de la journee a la Maison de l'OEuvre de la cathedrale, a dessiner. [...] j'ai ete tres frappe de ce que j'ai vu la. J'aurais voulu tout dessiner. Le premier jour j'ai ete attire par les ouvrages du quinzieme siecle et du comm[encemen]t de la renaissance des arts. (19) Les statues un peu raides, un peu gothiques de l'epoque anterieure ne m'attiraient pas. Je leur ai rendu justice le lendemain et le jour suivant, car j'y ai dessine trois jours avec ardeur, au milieu des interruptions, du froid et de l'incommodite du lieu par le defaut de lumiere ou la difficulte de me placer. (30 September) Retourne malgre le dimanche a la Maison de l'oEuvre. [...] Je me jette sur les figures d'anges du treizieme et quatorzieme, les vierges folles, les basreliefs d'une proportion encore sauvage, mais pleins de grace ou de force. (20) J'ai ete frappe de la force du sentiment. (1st October) Je les quitte [mes compagnons] pour aller a la Maison de l'OEuvre. Les tarifs me captivent de plus en plus. Je remarque dans des tetes [...] combien ils ont connu le procede antique. Je les dessine a la maniere de nos medailles d'apres l'antique, par les plans seulement. Il me semble que l'etude de ces modeles d'une epoque reputee barbare par moi tout le premier, et remplie pourtant de tout ce qui fait remarquer les beaux ouvrages, m'ote mes dernieres chaenes, me confirme dans l'opinion que le beau est partout, et que chaque homme, non seulement le voit, mais doit absolument le rendre, a sa maniere. Ou sont ici ces types grecs, cette regularite dont on s'est habitue a faire le type invariable du beau? Les tetes de ces hommes et de ces femmes sont celles qu'ils avaient sous les yeux.
From this point onward, the gothic becomes the example of an expressive, imaginative sculpture, as opposed to one which imitates the antique and produces only "pastiche." During the same visit to Strasbourg, he criticizes Pigalle's tomb of the Marechal de Saxe (1777), in the church of Saint Thomas, for this same lack of imagination and expression, contrasting it with the gothic:
La figure de la Mort, figure ideale par excellence, est tout simplement un squelette articule comme il y en a dans tous les ateliers et sur lequel le sculpteur a jete un grand drap qu'il a copie avec soin, en faisant sentir tres exactement [...] les tetes d'os, les creux et les saillies. Nos peres tout barbares, dans leurs naives allegories dont le gothique est plein, ont represente tout autrement les figures symboliques. Je me rappelle encore cette petite figure de la Mort qui sonnait les heures dans la vieille horloge de l'eglise de Strasbourg, que j'ai vue au rebut avec toutes celles qui y faisaient leur role, le vieillard, le jeune homme, etc. C'est un objet terrible, mais non pas hideux seulement: quand ils font des figures de diables ou d'anges, l'imagination y voit ce qu'ils ont voulu faire, a travers les gaucheries et l'ignorance des proportions.
Significantly, this very note will become the matter of Delacroix's projected entry on "the beautiful" for the "Dictionnaire des Beaux-Arts" in 1857: "Beau. [...] Voir Ag[enda] 55, 1er oct [obre] sur les figures de Strasbourg." Indeed in his notes on the modern beautiful, he praises medieval sculpture for "discovering the secret of making modern dress bearable": "a force de poesie naive, [le moyen age] a eleve presque a la hauteur des modeles que nous ont laisses les Grecs les statues de ses [...] grands modernes" ("Calepin a l'encre" 2).
UN SCULPTEUR REMARQUABLE (M. RUDE) DISAIT, EN PARLANT DES PEINTURES DE M. DELACROIX, QUE C'ETAIT LE SEUL HOMME QUI LUI RAPPELAT LES STATUES ANTIQUES. (21)
If a modern sculpture is thus possible--one which has the expressivity and imagination of painting, not by imitating painting but by realizing fully through sculpture's own means the "fantaisie" or "sentiment" of the artist, and thus the spirit of its time and culture--, a modern painting might likewise benefit from a reconsideration of its relation to sculpture. As we have seen, Delacroix rejects the Davidian or Ingrist "imitation" of sculpture in painting, inspired by a mistaken notion of the antique. But the note ofAndrieu's quoted here, recording what Delacroix had said to him, is suggestive. Indeed, Delacroix reflects, in the Journal of the saine year, on the "sculptural" qualifies of colorist painting:
Le sculpteur ne commence pas son ouvrage par un contour; il batit avec sa matiere une apparence de l'objet qui, grossier d'abord, presente des le principe la condition principale qui est la saillie reelle et la solidite. Les coloristes [...] doivent etablir en meme temps et des le principe tout ce qui est propre et essentiel a leur art. Ils doivent masser avec la couleur comme le sculpteur avec la terre, le marbre ou la pierre; leur ebauche, comme celle du sculpteur, doit presenter egalement la proportion, la perspective, l'effet et la couleur. Le contour est aussi ideal et conventionnel dans la peinture que dans la sculpture; il doit resulter naturellement de la bonne disposition des parties essentielles. (23 February 1852)
The concept expressed here is one of sculptural modeling, rather than carving: building up the object from the material rather than cutting it away to "reveal" the object; relying on mass rather than contour. Michelangelo, Delacroix writes elsewhere, did not proceed in this way: "Il ne procede pas, dans sa sculpture, comme les anciens, c'est-a-dire par les masses; il semble toujours qu'il a trace un contour ideal qu'il s'est applique a remplir, comme le fait un peintre. On dirait que sa figure ou son groupe ne se presente a lui que sous une face: c'est la le peintre. De la, quand il faut changer d'aspect comme l'exige la sculpture, des membres tordus, des plans manquant de justesse, enfin tout ce qu'on ne voit pas dans l'antique" (9 May 1853). (22) In painting, as he had written in his essay on Prud'hon in 1846, the true spirit of the antique does not lie in giving isolated figures the appearance of a statue, nor in arranging a scene involving multiple figures as a bas-relief, but rather in 'Tampleur savante des formes combinees avec le sentiment de la vie; [...] la largeur des plans et la grace de l'ensemble" (Ecrits sur l'art 160). If these latter traits are rather vague, they nevertheless indicate that Delacroix is groping, even at that early date, toward the concept of painterly equivalences to ancient sculpture. Such equivalences he comes increasingly to associate with colorism, in which the painter "handles the paint as the sculptor does the clay," building up the image through mass rather than a linear contour, infusing the sketch with the shape and spirit of the finished work, realizing through the means of painting the full potential of painting as an art.
Conversely, the quality of "touch" associated with colorist painting becomes for Delacroix a feature of sculpture--notably ancient sculpture--too:
La sculpture elle-meme comporte la touche: l'exageration de certains creux ou leur disposition ajoute a l'effet, comme par exemple ces trous perces au villebrequin dans certaines parties des cheveux ou des accessoires qui, au lieu d'une ligne creusee d'une maniere continue, adoucissent a distance ce qu'elle aurait de trop dur et ajoutent a la souplesse, donnent l'idee de la legerete, surtout dans les cheveux dont les ondulations ne se suivent pas d'une maniere trop formelle. (16 March 1857)
Thus can sculpture convey, through the means proper to it, the movement, dynamism and life which mark colorist painting: not through a vain attempt to render flying drapery in stone, which Reynolds had called pure "folly" but through irregular incisions and indentations rather than a continuous and evenly carved line. When viewed from a distance, such effects "soften" and "lighten" a hard and heavy material, and give to its immobile solidity a kind of undulating "souplesse." (23)
In his own practice, Delacroix probably always sought to create such "sculptural" equivalences. But examples from his late work in particular, such as the Jacob at Saint-Sulpice, seem to be especially "sculptural" in this sense, creating strong contour and modeling through a floating, variable and broken line and the play of light and shadow; achieving fullness, depth and projection through color and reflection. In this context, his quotation, on 31 August 1854, of a remark of Michelangelo's, told to him by his friend the painter Chenavard, is curiously resonant: "[Michel-Ange] disait que la bonne sculpture etait celle qui ne ressemblait pas a la peinture, et que la bonne peinture, au contraire, etait celle qui ressemblait a de la sculpture." (24) Delacroix does not comment on this remark and, at the time, probably noted it in disagreement, at least with the second clause: in a superficial sense, at least, good painting was emphatically not that which resembled sculpture. But with the evolution of his own ideas on sculpture, its relation to modern art and specifically to colorist painting, Delacroix may have had more in common with Michelangelo's statement than he thought, conceiving of a painting equivalent to sculpture, based on a method of "sculptural" modeling. If so, it will hOt have been the only example where a critical engagement with Michelangelo ended up overturning his prejudices. As he elsewhere acknowledged, "la frequentation de Michel-Ange a exalte et eleve successivement au-dessus d'eux-memes toutes les generations de peintres" (10 August 1850).
Delacroix, Eugene. Ecrits sur l'art. Ed. Francois-Marie Deyrolle and Christophe Denissel. Paris: Seguier, 1988.
--. Journal. Ed. Michele Hannoosh. Forthcoming.
--. Correspondance generale d'Eugene Delacroix. 5 vols. Ed. Andre Joubin. Paris: Plon, 1935-38.
Diderot, Denis. Encyclopedie ou Dictionnaire raisonne des sciences, des arts et des metiers. 28 vols., Plates, Supplement, Table. Reduced format facsimile of the original edition of 1776. New York: Pergamon Press 1969/1985.
--. Salons. Second edition. 4 vols. Ed. Jean Seznec. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975-83. Johnson, Lee. The Paintings of Eugene Delacroix. A Critical Catalogue. 6 vols. Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1981-89 (Vol.1-6) and Fourth Supplement, 2002.
Musee du Louvre. Cabinet des Dessins. Inventaire general des dessins. Ecole francaise. Dessins d'Eugene Delacroix. Ed. M. Serullaz avec la collaboration de Arlette Serullaz, Louis-Antoine Prat et Claudine Ganeval. Paris: Reunion des Musees Nationaux, 1984, nos. 1368, 1369, 1377.
Potts, Mex. The Sculptural Imagination. Figurative, Modernist, Minimalist. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000.
Reynolds, Joshua. Discourses on Art. Ed. Robert R. Wark. New Haven: Yale UP, 1997.
Summers, David. Michelangelo and the Language of Art. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1981.
Wark, Robert R., ed. Discourses on Art. New Haven: Yale UP, 1997.
Winckelmann, J. J. Reflections on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture. LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1987.
I would like to thank Alex Potts for the invaluable improvements which he suggested for this article. I also thank Richard Hobbs and Paul Smith for the opportunity to present my initial ideas on the subject at the conference "Medium and Message" which they organized through the Center for the Study of Visual and Literary Cultures in France, University of Bristol (March 2003).
(1) References to the diary are by date. Unless otherwise stated, all quotations from Delacroix's writings, published or unpublished, corne from my new edition of the Journal, forthcoming.
(2) As this annotation was omitted from previous editions, the project has remained entirely unknown.
(3) And not 15 July, as indicated in Ecrits sur l'art.
(4) The title is noted in the later of the two notebooks, which is written in ink ("calepin a l'encre" 1); the earlier one is in pencil ("calepin au crayon"). Both will appear in the new edition.
(5) Delacroix read Reynolds' Discourses, of which the tenth is devoted to sculpture; and also Diderot's Salon de 1765, with its long introduction to the section on sculpture. While he does not explicitly mention Winckelmann's Reflections on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture or his History of Ancient Art, it is likely that he knew the texts more directly than through Diderot, for example, who discusses the latter in the Salon de 1765. Delacroix frequently alludes to Winckelmann's theory of the relation of art to climate and political organization. In a notebook, he lists Winckelmann's name among those of other theorists whom he intends to read (Louvre, Inventaire no 1740, f 6ov); and he refers to him in the Journal of 1860 (6 and 22 February) along with others whom he did read. He does not appear to have read Herder's Plastik, which was untranslated and largely unknown in France in his time, but with which aspects of his own theory coincide.
(6) For an incisive discussion of the "otherness" of sculpture relative to painting and its ramifications for a "sculptural" aesthetic from the late eighteenth century onward, see Potts, The Sculptural Imagination; the theoretical tradition is analyzed in the Introduction and chapter 1.
(7) "Questions sur le beau" (1854), in Ecrits sur l'art 20; "calepin a l'encre" 2, 3; "calepin au crayon" 2. Cf. Diderot, Salon de 1765, where sculpture is "severe, grave et chaste" "serieuse"; its matter "dure, rebelle et d'une eternelle duree"; its process "long, penible, difficile" (Salons 2: 209). For Reynolds, sculpture is "grave," "austere," "formal," "regular" characterized by "sobriety" (Discourses on Art 176, 187).
For the importance of materials used in sculpture and the challenges involved in the elaboration of sculptural style, see in this volume the essay by Leroy-Jay Lemaistre, "Beau comme l'antique, vrai comme la nature."
(8) "Calepin a l'encre" 2-3; "Des Variations du beau" Ecrits sur l'art 44. Delacroix accepts this aspect of Winckelmann's theory, but elsewhere rejects the latter's causal emphasis on climate. Spartan youths appearing before the ephors, nude dancers in the theatres, Phryne bathing at the Eleusinian games, and exercises in the gymnasia are some of Winckelmann's examples: "There one could study the movement of the muscles and body [...] The nude body in its most beautiful form was exhibited there in so many natural and noble positions and poses not attainable today by the hired models of our art schools" (Reflections 12ff.). Falconet also evokes "les mouvements du corps qu'ils voyaient tous les jours dans leurs spectacles publics" (see "Sculpture antique" in Encyclopedie 14: 838).
(9) Cf. "Des Variations du beau" Ecrits sur l'art 44.
(10) Delacroix sees music, in particular, as a "pure" art, able to express the inexpressible without recourse to language, and to appeal to the soul without passing through the reasoning mind ("Calepin a l'encre" 1; and Journal, 16 October 1857).
(11) Delacroix had of course rendered this scene (or the related scene of the "Lamentation") in painting on numerous occasions. See Johnson, The Paintings of Eugene Delacroix. A Critical Catalogue J431, J434, J435, J443, J459, J466, J562-564. Christianity is associated with painting in the Journal: "[...] le christianisme aime le pittoresque. La peinture s'allie mieux que la sculpture avec ses pompes et s'accorde plus intimement avec les sentiments chretiens" (18 August 1854).
(12) See Diderot, Salon de 1765 (2: 108-109); Reynolds, Discourse x (175); Winckelmann, Reflections 59; Falconet, article on "Sculpture," Encyclopedie 14:834 ff.
(13) "Des Variations du beau," Ecrits sur l'art 44-45; the "Calepin a l'encre" contains a draft of this passage (3-4).
(14) Word incorrectly missing from Ecrits sur l'art 45.
(15) Cf. also "Calepin a l'encre" 4. Delacroix does not consider the possibility of light-effects on the surface of the relief; or else he deems it too unreliable to represent the essential actor in the story.
(16) The sculptor is Pierre Simart.
(17) 29 October 1852. Significantly, this note and the one concerning the Breze tomb combine to form the entry on "Sculpture francaise" for Delacroix's projected, never completed "Dictionnaire des Beaux-Arts" in 1857.
(18) "Carnet de Bade/Strasbourg" (unpublished, forthcoming in Journal).
(19) Some of these drawings are in the Louvre Inventaire: nos. 1368, 1369, 1377.
(20) The foolish virgins, from the south side of the facade (late 13th century). One of Delacroix's drawings is in the Louvre (Inventaire no. 1376).
(21) Journal de Pierre Andrieu (unpublished, forthcoming in Journal), 11 October 1852.
(22) For Michelangelo's well-attested emphasis on drawing in the execution of sculpture, see Summers 270-71.
(23) The softening of the shadows formed by such indentations when viewed from a distance is a "painterly" effect. Cf. A. Potts' discussion of the effects of crude irregularities and vigorous modeling in Rodin's works (98-99).
(24) This particular formulation is reported in G.B. Armenini's De' veri precetti della pittura (1587), inspired by Michelangelo's "paragone" letter to Benedetto Varchi (1548). See Summers 13f.: 269-274.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Nineteenth-Century French Studies|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2006|
|Previous Article:||Chateaubriand, ou les espaces de la sculpture.|
|Next Article:||Baudelaire et la sculpture ennuyeuse de son temps.|