Comic review: Delacroix by Alexandre Dumas & Catherine Meurisse
Delacroix - Alexandre Dumas, Catherine Meurisse
It's not every graphic novel that has a script writer of the stature of Alexandre Dumas, but if you are going to tell us something about the eventful life of Eugène Delacroix, one of the most important painters from French Romantic school, you can't do much better than get the first-hand account written in 1864, a year after the artist's death, from someone who knew him as a good friend. As the painter of Liberty Leading the People in 1830, capturing an iconic image that depicts the national values it stands for, Delacroix remains one of the major figures of French painting, and Dumas' entertaining account does much to consolidate that reputation.
Having Alexandre Dumas relate the story of Delacroix's life is as authentic as you can get, but evidently if you're going to create a graphic novel about Delacroix you'd need an artist of great ability to get across the power of his work, and fortunately, and most impressively, you have that in Catherine Meurisse. Although the larger part of Delacroix is made up of sketches or brief cartoony scenes that illustrate the narrative of Dumas, and sometimes parody the paintings, it's done so amusingly and in character, leaving you almost awestruck at the blaze of colour that adorns the artist's larger splash page reproductions of his important works.
Which, as you will find out from Dumas's delightful, playful and insightful account, is exactly the impact that you should have when you see the colours of a Delacroix painting. In practice, if you have ever seen any of the artist's large scale works at the Louvre in Paris, that's an impression that can be missed or overlooked on account of the overwhelming scale and assembly of many his works gathered together in one wing of the museum. In the context of the Louvre as a whole, it's also a lot to take in when viewed alongside so many other important and impressive works of art, to say nothing of the palace itself.
Dumas's short account of key moments in the life of Delacroix and his friendship with the artist is indeed wonderful, insightful and educational. These huge canvasses depicting scenes of antiquity and mythology exploding with colour and violence can be diffcult to take in in a single viewing, but Dumas explains the background to their creation in a way that makes them and the artist behind them human and relatable, bringing them to life for the casual viewer. The anecdotes also amusingly recount the often scandalised and frosty reception that the paintings received from the stuffy academics of the art world and the general public.
All of the little anecdotal details and sketching in of early and personal background history builds up of course to gaining some idea of the personality of the man who painted Liberty Leading the People, one of the most important and emotionally charged works in all French history. But Dumas doesn't neglect to extend the artist's fame beyond this work, and takes the opportunity to extol his own virtues as a patron of the arts in a wonderful description of Delacroix joining the great artists of the day for a project that he initiated. The account of the artists painting all the walls of the ballroom at his residence for a grand soiree is delightful, and beautifully illustrated by Meurisse.
Catherine Meurisse evidently has a large part to play in helping to see the artist's work in a new light, drawing attention to the colour through vivid watercolor washes, showing the composition being primarily that of colour and contrast rather than geometric order, creating in fact geometric order through the application and opposition of colour. These are really worthwhile examining against the originals. and you'll be calling up the images on Google or aching to get back to the Louvre again to see them with new eyes. Meurisse's artwork in this wonderful, amusing and educational graphic novel is literally illuminating.