Socialist Worker

Delacroix and the rise of modern art

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2495

His Christ on the Sea of Galilee (1853)

His Christ on the Sea of Galilee (1853) (Pic: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Yor)

This superb exhibition explores early 19th century French painter Eugene Delacroix’s influence on the movements that would later transform modern art.

The legend that surrounded him in life, the auction of his works after his death, and his art theory journals inspired generations of painters.

Unable to transport some of Delacroix’s best-known paintings, the exhibition more than makes up for it with canvasses by other great artists that show their debt to him.

His Christ on the Sea of Galilee (1853) was a reference for Vincent Van Gogh and Odilon Redon. The impressionists Renoir, Monet, Gaugin and Cezanne, the Pointillist Signac and the Fauvist Matisse are all here too.

Delacroix used bold contrasting colours to make his subjects come alive. He often painted rapidly, and chose dynamic scenes of motion and struggle.

He broke the conventions of popular genres. His historical scenes prioritised emotion over a clear story.

He painted flowers vivid and three dimensional to reclaim them from respectable “hackwork”.

In place of traditional scenes of ancient Greece and Rome he studied the “living antiquity” he saw in French-occupied North Africa.

Though ground-breaking, these paintings partly look through the eyes of colonialism. They sadly inspired other artists to exploit the rest of the world for “exotic” inspiration.

Delacroix lived in a time when new chemical paints and scientific theories were deepening the understanding of light and colour—something he studied intently.

He also saw that seeing is an active process of the mind, not just a passive reflection of the image.

So he tried to paint “a feast for the eyes” and convey “the music of painting” rather than a literal representation. This set the stage for the truly modern art of the decades after his death.

Delacroix and the rise of modern art
National Gallery,
London WC2N 5DN.
Until 22 May
Tickets £16/£14/£8 inc donation

E4's Aliens

This new sitcom from the producers of Misfits is off to a promising start.

In this alternate history, aliens landed in Britain in 1977 and have subsequently been confined to a high?walled ghetto.

There are clear echoes of the current treatment of migrants and refugees. It’s good to see a sitcom willing to address the key question of our times.

Although the series creator Fintan Ryan claims it’s not a satire and “you can project whatever feelings you want on to it”.

This ambivalence may lead it in some unfortunate directions, but the first episode bodes well.

It focuses on Lewis, a bigoted border guard whose life quickly unravels when he discovers he is half alien.

The misadventures of his drug-dealing sister then compel him to visit the ghetto and get intimate with some of his brethren.

Although closest in theme to the South African film District 9, it’s milieu and tone are more akin to Misfits, or the earlier Shameless.

It seems to share their belief in an underclass, but also their celebration of the humour and resilience of the dispossessed.

It’s well worth a look.

Ben Windsor

Tuesdays, 9pm on E4

The Damned United 

In their latest production, the radical Red Ladder Theatre Company present an innovative take on David Peace’s novel The Damned United about football manager Brian Clough’s efforts to redeem his reputation.

This is the first theatre production of Peace’s novel, and it brings to life the beauty and brutality of football.

West Yorkshire Playhouse,
Leeds LS2 7UP.
Until 2 April.
Tickets from £10 to £29
Derby Theatre,
Derby DE1 2NF.
7 until 16 April.
Tickets from £15 to £26

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Article information

Tue 15 Mar 2016, 16:26 GMT
Issue No. 2495
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