Louis Sarlin, Paris;
intended for his sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 2, 1918, lot 74, but the collection was bought en bloc by a Danish collector
Delacroix represents in many ways the epitome of the Romantic movement in the visual arts. He was the leading figure in the generation of artists who grew to maturity after the fall of Napoleon. Eschewing the classicism of the revolutionary period, he drew on the example of the history painters of the Napoleonic period, as well as the themes of the romantic movement in literature to forge a remarkably dynamic and emotive style. The Romantics used a variety of sources, both European and exotic, and relied on a colorful, painterly style to carry these themes. In place of the classicism of the 18th century and even the Renaissance, there was a return to medieval ideals and subject matter. This can be seen in such various movements as the Nazarenes in Germany, the Pre-Raphaelites in England and the international Gothic revival. And the Rubénistes finally gained ascendency over the Poussinistes.
The Chevalier en armure embodies the Romantic sensibility. The figure of a knight on horseback is central to the medieval revival. While we cannot identify this watercolor with a specific historical or literary figure, it can be linked to famous representations of the Christian knight, like Dürer's Knight, Death and Devil or Raphael's St. George and the Dragon. In Delacroix's own work one can see parallels with various works including King Roderick, in the Kunsthalle, Bremen (see L. Johnson, The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix, A Critical Catalogue, vol. 3, Oxford 1986, cat. no. 240, reproduced vol. 4, plate 60), Ruggiero Rescues Angelica, in the Musée de Grenoble (Johnson cat. no. 324, plate 140) and Clorinda Rescues Olindo and Sofronia, in the Neu Pinkothek, Munich (Johnson cat. no. 321, plate 135). In terms of the pose of horse and rider, the Chevalier en armure is closest to the last, but there is a significant iconographic difference because the rider in the painting is a woman.
The characterization of horse and rider, however, owes little to either the Nazarenes or the Pre-Raphaelites. Delacroix's knight and horse are sturdy, well-muscled figures and seem to derive from his early studies of Michelangelo and Rubens. The pose of the horse is particularly striking, its head turned to show its muscular neck and flowing mane, while its raised hooves add a nervous edge. We see this same type of horse repeatedly in Delacroix's orientalizing subjects, only the knight is replaced by an arab horseman.
The Chevalier en armure is not the only representation of a horse and rider in watercolor. In the Porte-étendard in the Nathan collection, Zurich (see I. Bergerol and A. Sérullaz, Eugène Delacroix: Aquarelles et lavis au pinceau, Paris 1998, plate 51), the artist shows a rider on a rearing horse, but that work is much more of a sketch. Here Delacroix has built up a finished work with a palette of jewel-like colors. The outlines of horse and rider are indicated in pencil, but the composition really grows out of short strokes of saturated color applied over the broad applications of more dilute wash. One can see this particularly in the brilliant whites and ochres of the horse's mane and the decoration on its bridle and blanket. The overall effect is to imbue the Chevalier en armure with a power far beyond its actual physical size.
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