Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Masterpieces Restored

When you enter the church of St. Sulpice in Paris, there is a small side chapel immediately on the right decorated with murals painted by Eugene Delacroix. Regular readers might know that Delacroix is a particular favourite of mine, and I've always wanted to look at these works, but they've been covered for renovations during my last few visits to Paris. To my delight, they were finally back on display when I went to the church n the middle of January.

Place St Sulpice, Paris
Corner of the Place St Sulpice with the church in background
On the left of the chapel as you face it, you see Jacob Wrestling with the Angel. Looking up, you see St Michael and the Dragon. On the right, you see Heliodorus Driven From the Temple.

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel

Heliodorus Driven from the Temple

St Michael and the Dragon
It's always a good question to ask why a public painter chose certain subjects, and these seem at first curious choices. In the story of Jacob, it's possible that Delacroix saw a metaphor for his own struggle with painting. This interpretation is reinforced by clues Delacroix painted into the pile of clothing lying in the foreground: the arrows sticking out of the quiver are actually paintbrushes, and the straw hat is painted from Delacroix's own hat. Delacroix worked on the commission for twelve years, and in fact he moved to a studio-house on the Rue de Furstenburg (now the marvellous Musee Delacroix) to be closer to the church.

After years of anticipation, I confess I was slightly disappointed in the murals. They don't have the power of the great paintings that now hang in the Louvre, such as The Death of Sardanapalus. But they are nevertheless filled with that instantly recognisable use of writhing human figures, and his mastery of complementary colours (particularly the red-green contrast in the Jacob painting).

Six restorers worked for more than a year on the restoration, and even in my less-than-great photos you can see how the colours.


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