Delacroix and the Matter of Finish

Posted online: October 2013

Eugène Delacroix, The Last Words of Marcus Aurelius, n.d. Oil on canvas, 25 5/8 x 31 3/4 in. The van Asch van Wyck Trust.

It’s not everyday that a never-before-seen painting by one of the most revered artists in history is discovered in the home of a local resident. But indeed, an unsigned work by the French painter Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) was recently uncovered in a Santa Barbara private collection.

The piece—an easel-sized oil painting— features the subject The Last Words of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, which hints at Delacroix, as he was intrigued by and drawn to dramatic moments in Greek and Roman history and frequently refers to the writings of the philosopher-emperor, Marcus Aurelius, in his personal diary. However, there is “no pictorial model for this particular deathbed scene,” which caused confusion as to the painting’s origins.

It may seem surprising that a painting by an artist of such renown could be overlooked for more than a century. But a lack of signature and “no pictorial precedent [for the subject matter]” allowed the work to slip by unnoticed. After a few years of scholarly and technical examination, however, the painting was authenticated by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art Assistant Director and Chief Curator, Eik Kahng. In her catalogue essay, Kahng traces the subject matter of the Marcus Aurelius to Delacroix, clearing up any confusion.

The painting will make its public debut at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in the fall exhibition, Delacroix and the Matter of Finish (on view October 27, 2013- Jan 26, 2014) before traveling to the Birmingham Museum of Art. It will be presented with 30 other paintings and 18 works on paper, showcasing the variety of finish in Delacroix’s practice. Be sure to stop by and visit this newly discovered piece of art history.
—Miranda King 

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