Delacroix's voyage to North Africa  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In 1832, Eugène Delacroix traveled to Spain and North Africa, as part of a diplomatic mission to Morocco shortly after the French conquered Algeria. He went not primarily to study art, but to escape from the civilization of Paris, in hopes of seeing a more primitive culture. He eventually produced over 100 paintings and drawings of scenes from or based on the life of the people of North Africa, and added a new and personal chapter to the interest in Orientalism. Delacroix was entranced by the people and the costumes, and the trip would inform the subject matter of a great many of his future paintings. He believed that the North Africans, in their attire and their attitudes, provided a visual equivalent to the people of Classical Rome and Greece:

"The Greeks and Romans are here at my door, in the Arabs who wrap themselves in a white blanket and look like Cato or Brutus…"

He managed to sketch some women secretly in Algiers, as in the painting Women of Algiers in their Apartment (1834), but generally he encountered difficulty in finding Moslem women to pose for him because of Muslim rules requiring that women be covered. Less problematical was the painting of Jewish women in North Africa, as subjects for the Jewish Wedding in Morocco (1837-41).

While in Tangier, he made many sketches of the people and the city, subjects to which he would return until the end of his life. Animals—the embodiment of romantic passion—were incorporated into paintings such as Arab Horses Fighting in a Stable (1860), The Lion Hunt (of which there exists many versions, painted between 1856 and 1861), and Arab Saddling his Horse (1855).




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