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Louvre hosts first retrospective of French master Delacroix in half a century

AFP/File | 'Liberty Leading the People' by Eugène Delacroix

Eugène Delacroix is one of French art's most famous – but possibly least understood – masters. The Louvre is hoping to change that with a full retrospective of his work, the first since the 1963 centenary of his death.

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With its new exhibition, the Louvre Museum in Paris is hoping to take visitors beyond Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix’s most recognisable masterpieces, such as "Liberty Leading the People," which has graced postage stamps and bank notes in France as well as a Coldplay album cover.

Alongside the Mona Lisa, Delacroix's famed 1830 image of a bare-chested revolutionary woman brandishing a flag and bayonet is the Louvre's most visited painting.

Visitors who know little about Delacroix's extensive career will be enlightened by the Louvre's show, entitled "Delacroix 1798-1863," which opens Thursday.

The artist who 'remains a mystery'

"Delacroix is the world's greatest Romantic painter. His painting is one of the two most iconic works here. Yet, he remains a mystery," said Sebastien Allard, painting director at the Louvre.

"There was so much, so much more after the 10 years when he produced his most famous paintings. And we are showing his near-complete works for the first time since 1963," he added.

According to the Louvre's website, the exhibition "...will aim 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”.

Allard said some 200 works, including watercolors, lithographs and religious art as well as intimate journals, show the profound influence Delacroix had on world painting.

French poet Charles Baudelaire said:"Delacroix was passionately in love with passion, but coldly determined to express passion as clearly as possible."

Avid experimentalist

A painter obsessed with light and colour, he was one of the first artists to paint mixed-race models to capture the unique luminosity of the skin. Instead of painting green, Delacroix would paint two dotsone blue, one yellow next to each other and let the spectator's eye do the rest.

The exhibit demonstrates how he was an avid experimentalist, inspiring many after him. Pablo Picasso reproduced Delacroix's "Women of Algiers," and his pioneering techniques were also seized upon by impressionists such as Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne.

Delacroix has, over the decades, found international fame including in the United States, from which approximately 40 of the works for this show are on loan.

However, the sheer size of many of the dramatic oilssome more than 260cm by 325cm (102in by 128in) has complicated the transfer of his work around the world.

"Delacroix loved the Louvre, and here really is the only place you can see one of the greatest artists of all time," Allard said.

The Delacroix retrospective runs until July 23 at the Louvre before moving on to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in the autumn, minus the larger works.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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