For the first time in over a decade, a Delacroix exhibit has come to the United States. “Delacroix and the Matter of Finish,” opened in October at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California where it will stay through the end of January before moving on to The Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama.
The exhibit was inspired by the discovery of one of the master’s paintings in a Santa Barbara home. “I was breathless when I saw the painting for the first time,” said the exhibition’s curator, Eik Kahng, told French news agency AFP. “It isn’t every day that someone calls you saying that they have a Delacroix.” The collection is meant to shed a new light on the influences of the Romantic painter as well as present the recently discovered painting to the public.
The work seems to be a variation of a monumental painting, “Last Words of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius,” dating from 1844 on display at the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon. “The goal was to find out whether this painting was a first draft for the larger version in Lyon – which is what I instantly thought when I saw it for the first time,” explained Ms. Kahng. “But the more I looked at it, the more I understood the relationship (of Delacroix) with the subject and the more I was able to distinguish the subtle differences of interpretation between our painting and the one in Lyon,” she said. “I understood that it was a completely different variation on a theme that was very important to Delacroix.”
The discovery of the painting was, of course, followed by the requisite investigation of its authenticity, made even more difficult by the fact that the number one worldwide Delacroix expert Lee Johnson passed away in 2006. His comprehensive catalogue, published in the 80s, makes no mention the Santa Barbara painting. He thus was likely unaware of its existence. It was Ms. Kahng, following extensive research, who verified the authenticity of the painting. “There really is no other Delacroix expert of the same caliber as Lee Johnson. There’s a gap to fill,” she stated. “I am not saying I am going to become this person. I had just been very interested by this particular painting and the possibility of establishing its authenticity, based on the impression that it was too good to be a work of a student.”