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Half a million visitors made the most-visited show of Delacroix paintings in Louvre

A record half a million people visited the Eugène Delacroix retrospective at the Louvre, which closed in July of 2018 before its reopening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this fall. In Paris, 180 works gave a full view of the French painter’s ouevre, while slightly fewer works will be shown in New York. Some 540,000 visitors made this the most-visited show in Louvre history.
From the end of March to July 23, the Louvre drew crowds with about 7,200 people flocking to the show per day in the last month of exhibition. A big draw was the artist’s well-known 1830 painting Liberty Leading the People, which will not travel from the Louvre collection for the New York iteration. A number of other masterpieces will be shown in New York, marking the first major survey of Delacroix in the U.S.
Eugène Delacroix, Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi. 1826. Oil on canvas. 209×147 cm. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux
The Louvre received a public relations boost this summer thanks to the video "Apesh**t" by Beyoncé and Jay-Z that was set within the historic institution, although Delacroix’s works did not make the cut in the couple’s video.
Eugène Delacroix (1798−1863) was one of the giants of French painting, but his last full retrospective exhibition in Paris dates back to 1963, the centenary year of his death. From the young artist’s big hits at the Salons of the 1820s to his final, lesser-known, and mysterious religious paintings and landscapes, the exhibition showcases the tension that characterizes the art of Delacroix, who strove for individuality while aspiring to follow in the footsteps of the Flemish and Venetian masters of the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Louvre staged 11 night openings and free days during July, which allowed an extra 25,000 people to see the exhibition. The French President Emmanuel Macron also gave the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a private tour of the exhibition earlier this year, a high profile event that drew further attention to the exhibition.

With so many key works on view, as well as two of Delacroix’s most massive paintings—La Mort de Sardanapale and La Prise de Constantinople par les Croisés—rave reviews from critics poured in. The show exposed all facets of the Romantic painter who was interchangeably sinister, political and then erotic throughout his wide breadth of a career.

  • Eugène Delacroix. La Mort de Sardanapale, 1827. Musée du Louvre, Paris
  • Eugène Delacroix. La prise de Constantinople par les croisés, 1840. Musée du Louvre, Paris
The exhibition was aimed to answer the questions raised by Delacroix’s long, prolific, and multifaceted career while introducing visitors to an engaging character: a virtuoso writer, painter, and illustrator who was curious, critical, and cultivated, infatuated with fame and devoted to his work.

The exhibition fizzled a little at the end, with a final gallery of small landscapes and seascapes, but these are what Delacroix was doing in the last years of his life. They offer atmosphere rather than topography. None is the least bit formulaic. The show is a welcome survey, for too much thinking about, for instance, Delacroix’s influence on the Impressionists or Whistler, Bonnard or Matisse could lead the viewer on too many other adventures. The deep focus on Delacroix is in itself a rare, sumptuous feast, and the Louvre serves it up with that unusual combination of rigour and elan.

The show was organised more or less chronologically, but did not necessarily reveal a steady progression, since even as a young man Delacroix was a genius. His family was political and military, with revolutionary sentiments, accomplished and well-connected enough to make credible the rumour that he was foreign minister Talleyrand’s illegitimate son. In any event, Delacroix was a high-stepper. The pictures that made him a sensation and kept him in the canon, like The Death of Sardanapalus (1827−28) or The Barque of Dante (1822) were painted before he was 30. They are big in size, complexity and moral content. Every few years, Delacroix produced an operatic work like Medea About to Kill Her Children (1838) and massive mural projects at the Palais Bourbon and the Gallery of Apollo at the Louvre in the 1840s. These guaranteed his superstar status.
The Delacroix exhibition, which has been co-organised with the Met, is an ambitious and collaborative endeavor between the French institution’s Sébastien Allard and Côme Fabre and Asher Miller from the Met. The New York museum’s version of the show will be slightly smaller with 150 paintings. A few of the artist’s largest works won’t be able travel to the US show because of their size.
Delacroix will on view from Sept. 17 to Jan. 9, 2019, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The show at the Met will be the first big Delacroix survey in the US. The New York iteration is well placed to top the Louvre attendance, when visitor figures for its temporary exhibitions tend to be modest given its 8 million plus total museum attendance.
Title illustration: Eugene Delacroix. Liberty Leading the People, 1830. Louvre, Paris.

Based on materials from Artnet, The Artnewspaper, Louvre Museum Official Website.