DELACROIX, Eugène (1798-1863)



The market is still teeming with Délacroix drawings and sketches, mostly from his travels in Morocco and Algeria.

Eugène DELACROIX made his first drawings while studying at the Lycée Impérial. Helped by the patronage of his uncle, the painter H.F.Reisener, he was recommended to P.N.Guerin in 1815 and a year later started at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. There, he worked in lithographs and caricatures before winning his first commission in 1819 — La Vierge des Moissons, for the church at Orcémont. He also made the acquaintance of Géricault and Gros. In 1822, his Dante et Virgile aux Enfers was exhibited at the Salon, and, despite some strong criticism, was bought by the French state. Delacroix now turned to romanticism. He was awarded the Légion d’honneur in 1831, had 11 works shown at the Salon one of which, La Liberté guidant le peuple, was bought by Louis Philippe for FRF 3,000 for the Royal museum. In 1832, he undertook a long journey through Morocco and Algeria, during which he produced a host of sketches and watercolours, noting down his impressions and sketches in notebooks which eventually inspired around a hundred paintings. Back in France he began working on public commissions including the king’s chamber at the Palais-Bourbon, the Palace of Luxembourg, the Apollo gallery at the Louvre and the Chapelle des Saints Anges de Saint-Suplice. Besides these monumental works, he continued to paint portraits and a number of orientalist canvases until his death in 1863.

Artworks at auctions

Collectors can find a rich and varied selection of Delacroix’s work at auction. A sale held the year after his death at the hotel Drouot showcased the breadth and variety of his work. Today, some 80-100 works come up for auction each year — two thirds of them drawings or watercolours. The most highly prized on the auction floor are his orientialist watercolours. A richly composed piece can fetch up to EUR 100,000. At Sotheby’s recently, the bidding for Chevaux Arabes — a work on paper from the Bill Blass collection estimated at USD 7,000-10,000 — went up to USD 32,000. But the market is also rich in pencil sketches that enthusiasts can pick up for as little as EUR 3,000, and in fact, 70% of Delacroix’s drawings/watercolours go for less than EUR 10,000. The paintings, however, are a rarity on the auction stands. Only five or six come up each year. His largest canvases are all out of the market in museums, and the current record price is held by a mid-sized orientalist work, Choc de cavaliers Arabes (81×100.5cm). Painted in 1833-34 and turned down by the Salon in 1834, the painting sold for FFR 46,500,000 (EUR 7.1 million) on 19 June 1998 at Piasa. At the other end of the scale, collectors can find plenty of Delacroix prints, 80% of which sell for less than EUR 1,500. His best-known lithographs are Faust (a series of 17 prints, engraved in 1827) and Hamlet (a series of 16, made in 1834). On 13 November 2002, a full set of Faust prints sold for EUR 3,100 at Piasa.

The market places

Delacroix’s is mainly a French market. Just over half of all lots go under the hammer in France, which accounts for 73% of turnover. Pieces in all media and at all prices can be found. The auction houses in the English-speaking markets are also keen on Delacroix, but have put up no major work for several years.

Buy or sell

Delacroix’s price index has risen sharply since 1997, particularly prices for his drawings and watercolours, which have doubled in the last six years. This rise has been parallel to growth in the market, with the number of lots sold also doubling in 1997-2002 as rising demand has easily kept pace with volumes. In fact more lots were bought in in 1998 than in 2002. Basically, the market for Delacroix has never been so dynamic.
The supply of Delacroix has fallen off over the last few months, in line with the wider market. This has only served to intensify enthusiasm for the pieces that do make it to the stands. The bought-in rate in the first half of 2003 was 26% suggesting prices could edge up slightly more. In December 2003, a good number of Delacroix pieces will come up for auction in France, particularly at Blanchet on 3 December, Artcurial on 8 December, and Beaussant-Lefèvre on 10 December.

    Eugène DELACROIXArtprice Indexall media categories, base January 1997 = 100   Eugène DELACROIXLots sold at auctions  Eugène DELACROIXAuction sales turnover 1999-2002 / weight by country © Artprice