In one of my earliest blogs on this website, I wrote about my surprise at discovering that Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) worked in pastels from time to time. (Click here to read that post.) Since it’s the Easter weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to share three of Delacroix’s pastels of the crucifixion.
The first pastel is a vigorous sketch after Rubens’s painting, Christ on the Cross or Coup de Lance (Pierced with a Lance). Let’s look at Rubens’s painting and then Delacroix’s copy.
When I look at this sketch, I see Delacroix’s intention as capturing the positioning of figures as well as setting down colours. The greenish colour he uses for Christ’s body seems to me to suggest Delacroix used a colour at hand to show Rubens had used a lighter, greener colouring for Christ than he had used for the thieves.
Delacroix’s painting of the same subject in1846 (seven years later), shows the influence of Rubens’s work. Delacroix leaves out the thieves and many other figures, focusing on the figure of Christ, already pierced by the lance (not in view here). Interestingly the red standard in the background echo the lance and the cape of the rider in Rubens’s painting.
Now let’s look at the other two pastels.
The first was done in 1847, after the painting above was completed, suggesting that rather than being a study for the painting is was done afterwards. In his book, Delacroix’s Pastels, the writer Lee Johnson suggests that the pastel was made for an admirer of the painting (shown at the 1847 Salon). This person may have been Haro, the first owner of the piece, who was Delacroix’s supplier of art materials.
Much is the same between the drawing and the painting except that now there are no figures but the solitary Christ. There is certainly less drama, less of the light figure against the dark background but still there is an echo of the feeling in the pastel with a darkening of clouds over the distant hills where the sun rises. The warm paper gives a gentle warm underflow to the whole.
I have added three close-up so we can get a better look at the pastel application:
It appears that much of the pastel in the sky was blended/smudged (you can make out what looks like finger marks in the middle detail!). This was probably true of areas of the body over which hatched lines were applied.
Let’s have a look at the other pastel:
Now we have Christ facing the other direction (west, away from the rising sun) accompanied by a serpent, traditionally a symbol of evil leading to the original sin, the reason for which Christ died. The sunlight is seen rising from behind a craggier landscape than previously and there is less sky shown. Wind is suggested by the position of the material covering Christ’s lower torso. There is an incredible feeling of loneliness in the vastness of the desolate and unwelcoming landscape.
The whole thing looks more subtle and softer than the earlier pastel, with more experience behind it. It’s a smaller drawing and so less detail was possible. (It’s difficult to make out the hand on the right – is that due to the size of paper or perhaps an accidental smudge? The fingers look like they may have been outstretched originally.) Nevertheless, his knowledge and confidence with the figure and with the pastels is certainly clear!
Again, let’s look at some closeups:
Delacroix did paint another Christ on the Cross around this time and this drawing has been related to it. There really doesn’t seem to be that much similarity though. I certainly could make a list of all the dissimilarities!! What do you think?
I hope you enjoyed this review of a couple of Delacroix’s pastels. Another time, I’ll show you some of his studies of skies which are fabulous.
Until then, let me know what you learnt from this blog post 🙂
PS. Here’s the book I mentioned above, Delacroix’s Pastels by Lee Johnson, in case you want to add it to your collection 🙂