Wright, Beth S., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Delacroix.
For more than a decade the Cambridge UP has provided "companions" to the study of cultural icons from Shakespeare to Keats to Berlioz but has left visual artists alone. Now in this early year of the new millennium, not only does Cambridge introduce a series to accompany the consideration of individual visual artists, beginning with Delacroix, but Oxford UP initiates a project of similar name with Turner as its first subject. The resemblance between the two series appears to end with the term "companion." Their approaches and what they offer the curious or needy scholar are quite different.
The contrast between the two volumes helps define the basic project of the Cambridge series. The Oxford Turner is the literal heavy weight, 420 pages with 53 contributors and nearly 800 learned entries. One can look up an English site to see if Turner painted it, how many rimes he tackled it and where those paintings are. A marvelous encyclopedia, although hardly a book for the briefcase.
The modest 240 pages of the Cambridge presentation are devoted to nine topical essays and an introduction. Along with the requisite notes and bibliography, there is a helpful set of chronological tables. Use of the excellent index could help one answer some of those what, where, when questions about the artist and his works, but the emphasis of the volume is on the presentation of a variety of scholarly perspectives. This means that the same painting may be used by two or three or more authors in quite different ways within their individual essays. Nina Athanassoglou-Kallmyer uses "The Interior of a Dominican Convent in Madrid," a painting inspired by a tale in "Melmoth the Wanderer," to discuss Delacroix's interest in the gothic tales of popular fiction. Paul Joannides, looking at "Delacroix and Modern Literature," links the same painting, through both its compositional format and its type of subject, to Delacroix's treatment of several subjects drawn from Byron. To him the compositions reflect" the individual ruined by the state or institution, whose inexorable power is symbolized by oppressive architecture--an issue not without echoes in Delacroix's own career and in that of the patron of both the Dominican Convent and the Prisoner of Chillon, the young duc d'Orleans" (134). An individual essay in Wright's compendium could satisfy the questions of some particular reader because each essay stands on its own. But the effect of the whole volume is not of an encyclopedia but of transparent layers, overlays which enable the reader to discover relationships.
The range of the essays reflects the breadth of Delacroix's life and career as fully as it also represents current trends in scholarship. Wright is known for her work on the use of story and history by nineteenth-century French painters. Of course subject matter is a major consideration in this volume but with emphases peculiar to each author. Athanassoglou-Kallmyer's concern with the gothic has already been mentioned. While Darcy Grigsby sets the orientalist works for which Delacroix is noted within the context of the painter's sexual preoccupations, he also uses them to consider the painter's reservations about colonialism. Paul Joannides, in looking at "Delacroix and Modern Literature," condenses an enormous amount of research into reflective reasoning on the sources of Delacroix's literary subjects. He not only specifies Delacroix's literary interests but also the way in which the painter developed ancillary subjects, implied but not actually in a particular text, and how he utilized compositional ideas from popular illustration. Petra Chu is interested in Delacroix as an observational painter and the relation between the theories he developed from observation and his practice of painting. The ideas that Delacroix considered in his critical essays are the concern of Michelle Hanoosh who has already published the leading study of Delacroix's journals. Her look at the articles is intent on showing us how he changes his mind.
Delacroix's specific historical situation is enlightened by Alan Spitzer in "Delacroix in his Generation" as he isolates the influences on this generational "cohort." What was peculiar to their education, what attitudes about politics and towards the academy distinguish them--and how was Delacroix both with and not of his associates? James Rubin skillfully reopens questions over the relation of "Delacroix and Romanticism." Dorothy Johnson provides a fresh look at the linear/painterly discussion as she links his aspirations to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century ideals.
While Johnson shows Delacroix's relation to the art of the past, David Scott doses the set of essays with a consideration of "The Impact of Delacroix on Aesthetic Theory, Art Criticism and Poetics in Mid-Nineteenth-Century France." A tall order handled not as information but as a skillfully focused meditation on the relation of this artist to his age. This final essay fittingly closes with an excursion into the "genius as Janus." While Scott shows how Delacroix was uncomfortable with the critical practice of Baudelaire because the painter was intellectually situated elsewhere, his placement of Delacroix as the Janus echos the closing passage about Delacroix in Baudelaire's Exposition Universelle de 1855. The man who defined the spirit of the age seems without successor. He may have reshaped the questions for painting and for criticism, but he creates no school. He has opened a door which he does not pass through.
The book is an indispensable tool for the scholar who needs perspective on Delacroix and his time. The seventy black and white illustrations will not be illuminating to those only minimally familiar with his oeuvre. Pull Berthelemy Jobert's Delacroix (Princeton, 1997) from the library shelf. Its 250 or so color plates should answer any need. Jobert's massive catalogue is beautifully complemented by Wright's selection of essays which make accessible significant ways of approaching the artist and his effect on the intellectual ferment of his age.
Marjorie Schreiber Kinsey, South Bend, Indiana
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|Author:||Kinsey, Marjorie Schreiber|
|Publication:||Nineteenth-Century French Studies|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2002|
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