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Eugène Delacroix,
Michèle Hannoosh, ed.
2 vols. Paris: José Corti, 2009.
2519 pp.
80 € (paperback)
ISBN 9782-7143-0999-0

Eugène Delacroix’s Journal is one of the most famous and influential texts ever written by an artist, and yet, its contents and form have never been entirely stable. It has appeared in many, very different versions. The new edition under consideration here, edited by Michèle Hannoosh, completely revises those that have preceded it. It brings a new standard to documentary research on Delacroix and significantly changes our understanding of him. In the world of Delacroix studies, Hannoosh now joins the likes of Alfred Robaut, Etienne Moreau-Nélaton, André Joubin, and Lee Johnson as someone who has played a fundamental role in identifying, preserving, and making public the artist’s work.

The core of the Journal has always been five small notebooks covering the period from 1822 to 1824 and fifteen diaries covering 1847 and the years from 1849 to 1863. The diary for the eventful year of 1848 was tragically lost when Delacroix forgot it in a hackney. To these are often added the written contents of seven sketchbooks (two of which are lost) from the North African voyage of 1832 and various parts of other notebooks and loose sheets from a wide range of dates.

Parts of the Journal appeared during the artist’s lifetime: in 1853 Théodore Silvestre published excerpts in L’Illustration and three years later in his Histoire des artistes vivants.[1] Shortly after Delacroix’s death in 1863, Silvestre included further passages in his Eugène Delacroix, documents nouveaux, and Achille Piron published an important group of writings, none of which came from the actual diaries themselves, in his Eugène Delacroix, sa vie et ses oeuvres in 1868.[2] The first effort to publish a complete “journal” was carried out by Paul Flat and René Piot and appeared in four volumes from 1893 to 1895.[3] André Joubin published a far longer and more accurate edition in 1932, and republished it with corrections and additions in 1950.[4]

Joubin’s version appeared again in 1981, dubiously announced as an “édition revue”; in fact, this edition simply integrated Joubin’s errata and addenda and added a preface by Hubert Damisch, a few notes, and some bibliographical references.[5] Another, identical edition appeared in 1996.[6] Hannoosh is rightfully scornful of these later editions: her own research demonstrates both how much in need of correction Joubin’s version was and the wealth of undiscovered writing by the artist that simply gathered dust during the second half of the twentieth century. Her detective work finding unpublished manuscripts, her deciphering and dating of them, and her scholarly documentation and discussion of their contents is simply breathtaking, as is her painstaking reconstruction of disassembled notebooks, of the byzantine provenance of the manuscripts, and of how certain parts found their way into publication.

Curiously, Delacroix left no instructions in his elaborately detailed will concerning his journal. When his principal heir, Achille Piron, asked Jenny Le Guillou, Delacroix’s devoted housekeeper, about Delacroix’s diaries shortly after his death, she claimed that Delacroix had burned them. In fact, she had hidden them and soon delivered them to Constant Dutilleux, a painter and close friend of Delacroix, with the expectation that he would publish them. She may also have hoped that he would expurgate them. Dutilleux later asserted that Delacroix had wanted Le Guillou to destroy the diaries, and that she had preserved them against his wishes. The story is possibly true: Delacroix expressed some ambivalence about preserving his memoirs, he trusted Le Guillou deeply, and she clearly understood his importance as an artist and thinker.

After this point, the history of the diaries and other manuscripts becomes very complicated. Piron had inherited Delacroix’s personal papers, many of which contained musings similar to those in the diaries, and he possessed the diary for 1863, which apparently Le Guillou had not taken. He gave the 1863 diary to Le Guillou, who in turn gave it to Delacroix’s student and assistant Pierre Andrieu. Lost today, it exists in various copies, of which Hannoosh has published the variations. The rest of the papers in Piron’s possession disappeared from view into a long line of heirs. Some surfaced on the market in the 1950s, but many are only known today because of Hannoosh’s detective work, about which more in a moment.

Dutilleux asked his nephew and son-in-law, Alfred Robaut, to copy the diaries in his possession. At Dutilleux’s death, Le Guillou reclaimed those that Robaut had already copied, and Robaut held on to the rest. Le Guillou passed her lot on to relatives of Delacroix’s brother-in-law, Raymond de Verninac. All of the manuscripts, except those that had remained with the descendants of Piron, passed through the hands of a number of people involved in Flat and Piot’s early effort to publish the Journal. After the publication of this work, some manuscripts returned to the Verninac and Andrieu families, while others were lost. Some have since appeared on the market, and the Bibliothèque de l’Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art in Paris has acquired most of the manuscripts for the years 1822–24, 1847, 1849–50, and 1856–62. Part of Hannoosh’s work has been to reconstruct the still-missing documents from the various copies that were made of them over the years. A copy made by Robaut, now in the Getty Research Institute, has been important for every edition of the Journal, but Hannoosh’s researches have been so painstaking as to determine that there must have been another, earlier copy by Robaut, whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Hannoosh’s most astonishing discovery was of the documents that had remained with Piron’s descendants. Piron’s line of descent disappeared from view in the nineteenth century with a certain “M. de Courval,” whose heirs left almost no public trace. In desperation, Hannoosh went through the phonebook of Courval’s hometown and uncovered someone with a loosely linked name, who indeed was related to, and knew of, surviving family members. Letters to various relatives eventually turned up a cache of documents—the remains of the Piron inheritance—of whose importance the owners were unaware. Before they proceeded to sell the documents Hannoosh was able to copy them.

Another major breakthrough came when Hannoosh learned of a group of documents in a private collection originally assembled by Claude Roger-Marx from various dealers and ultimately traceable back to Piron’s inheritance. Amazingly, their contents had been described, and extracts published, in the Figaro littéraire in 1963, but this publication had gone totally unnoticed by previous scholars of Delacroix![7] From these various collections Hannoosh uncovered, among other things, hundreds of letters addressed to Delacroix revealing much about his career, documents detailing the artist’s private and financial affairs, texts discussing his voyage to Morocco, and numerous reflections on aesthetics, the arts, and important artistic and literary figures.

With a few exceptions, this edition first presents the diaries and then, in an order guided by both chronology and theme, the contents of various other notebooks and loose sheets. This is followed by the journals and notes of Delacroix’s assistant Pierre Andrieu, which offer important documentation of Delacroix’s activities and statements. Then, in a long section entitled “Variantes,” Hannoosh painstakingly documents all the mistakes, erasures, cross-outs, marginalia, differences between her edition and earlier ones, and many more details that would have disrupted the flow of the journal had they been incorporated into the main text. She also includes short biographies of the many hundreds of figures mentioned in the journal, an appendix on Delacroix’s lover Eugénie Dalton, genealogies of Delacroix’s family, a bibliography, and an index.

It is impossible to overstate the value of this new edition for scholarship on Delacroix. It contains countless corrections to earlier editions as well as to their identifications of people, places, paintings, texts, and other details. Earlier editions had omitted parts of the diaries, integrated bits of other manuscripts into the diaries proper, and often misinterpreted the dates and order of journal entries. This was partly the result of the complexity of Delacroix’s system of writing: he sometimes moved back and forth between entries, adding thoughts at later dates or referring to earlier arguments, and sometimes he jumped forward or backward in a notebook to continue an entry on an unused section of the notebook. He used a system of cross-references that Hannoosh is the first to comprehend fully. Earlier editors often suppressed the chaotic quality of the journal, and they sometimes published nonsensical passages and non-sequiturs because they could not follow the thread of Delacroix’s writing as he skipped back and forth through the pages of his notebooks. Hannoosh generally follows the chronological order of the entries, but in some instances she has kept thematically similar material together. In all cases she has noted, so far as is possible, the exact form of the manuscripts, and even includes erasures, cross-outs, corrections, and variants.

Delacroix appears to have written constantly, for in addition to his diaries he filled dozens of notebooks and many more loose sheets with writing. Earlier editions integrated this material willy-nilly into the so-called “journal” or into a supplement, and this too has led to much confusion about the development of his ideas. Hannoosh, in contrast, separates out the material that was not originally in the diaries. She has discovered numerous new notebooks and reconstructed others out of fragments now in different collections and from the notes of various scholars and collectors who owned manuscripts by Delacroix that are now missing. Some of these new texts are of immense importance: a text on Faust, an autobiographical account, a passage on the various meanings of Romanticism, and notes for an unpublished article on the “beau moderne.” Hannoosh also discovered numerous important published and unpublished sources about Delacroix, some of which are announced only in her footnotes. These include accounts of Delacroix by friends and acquaintances, a sales catalogue for part of his library, and unpublished notes by Delacroix’s assistant, Pierre Andrieu, from the period when he was working on the Salon de Paix in the Hôtel de Ville.

There are countless little gems, perhaps not of great importance for understanding Delacroix as an artist, but that, nonetheless, fill out his biography and sometimes answer longstanding questions. For example, one note (93–4) establishes the identity of an early lover, about which there has been much speculation, as Louise Rossignol de Pron. Another of his lovers, the famous Mme. Dalton, is firmly identified for the first time in an appendix as Geneviève-Charlotte Dalton, and Hannoosh reconstructs her relationship with Delacroix and publishes an exchange of letters between Mme Dalton’s daughter and Delacroix. As Mme Dalton was dying of breast cancer in Algiers, she asked her daughter to convey her goodbyes to the artist and to request, for her daughter, a portrait that Delacroix had painted of her.

This edition also establishes how obsessive Delacroix was regarding certain ideas and issues: some topics are addressed over and over again, and occasionally the wording of arguments is closely repeated three and even four times. Earlier editions omitted such repetitions, but for a scholarly edition, the inclusion of all variants seems merited not simply because it offers the full range of Delacroix’s thinking, but also because it reveals his particular obsessions. Similarly, earlier editions only included some of Delacroix’s transcriptions and clippings from his reading, but Hannoosh publishes everything, allowing readers to see as much as possible of his interests.

Among her most stunning discoveries are drafts and notes by Delacroix for a lengthy article about his voyage in 1832 to Morocco and Algeria as part of a diplomatic mission aimed at keeping Morocco out of the war in Algeria.[8] Based on internal evidence, Hannoosh argues convincingly that it most likely comes from early 1843, and certainly from the period from 1842 to 1844. Delacroix’s voyage to North Africa and its place in his art are among the most famous and studied episodes in his career, yet this newly discovered essay reveals aspects of Delacroix’s ideas regarding North Africa that had not even been guessed at by scholars, and it will lead to a substantial revision of our understanding of his paintings of North African subjects. For example, much recent scholarship has assumed a more or less complete complicity between Delacroix’s art and the colonial project, but this new text contains a long, sarcastic passage harshly criticizing French colonialism in Algeria. His criticism of colonialism is limited: he focuses primarily on the demolition and rebuilding of the old city of Algiers, the destruction of mosques, and the desecration of cemeteries. It has almost nothing to say about the people killed and tortured, the confiscations of communal lands, or the lives completely destroyed. He mentions the executions of Algerians later in his notes, but only in the context of describing how they “die very stoically,” which he offers an example of their indifference “to life and temporal things” (305). On the other hand, his indictment of colonialism is severe for the 1840s.

Delacroix’s foray into the politics of colonialism contrasts starkly with what he wrote about North Africa while he was there. Delacroix’s letters and sketchbooks from the trip make it plain that he could have no doubt about the larger political and military stakes that surrounded the mission. The trip to Meknes was made with a heavily armed escort of over a hundred men and met with considerable hostility along the way: the mission was repeatedly shot at, children threw stones, and in Meknes they could only go out with bodyguards. Only Delacroix did so, and his bodyguards had to keep jeering crowds at bay. Despite all this, Delacroix, makes almost no mention in his letters and journal of the political and military circumstances surrounding the mission. Far more important to him was his own artistic project. Delacroix ignored the relationship of his voyage to colonialism in 1832; by the early 1840s, he could not, and he dwelt on what he called “their hatred for us” (300).

In the new text Delacroix also deals at length with his own ambivalence toward North Africans. The men he observed in Morocco and their customs “appeared to me alternatively horrible or admirable”:

I found there men who were more men than us: who united naive, energetic feelings, the beginnings of a civilization, the most diabolical cunning and sordid vices that seemed like the fruit of the corruption of societies. It would be no little task, for someone who could accomplish it with talent, to offer a true picture of these bizarre oppositions. It’s that, to paint such men, it is necessary to take on the greatest difficulty of writing, which consists of moving at every instant from an admiring style to an informal style that lends itself to painting grotesque scenes. You have to, so to speak, change pens all the time. You see the most imposing and the most ridiculous things pass before your eyes without transition (285).

There is much more like this. Ten years removed from his voyage, Delacroix was far more inclined to confront the contradictory feelings with which it left him. Yet for his painting, he largely suppressed his negative perceptions in favor of an idealized account of life in North Africa.

Delacroix has been criticized for viewing Moroccans in his Journal through the lens of European racial categories—which in fact he often did—ignoring local forms of identity, and leaving Morocco with his ideas about race essentially unchanged. Hannoosh’s research demonstrates, however, that his time in Morocco put pressure on his ideas about North Africa. The discovery of still another document by Hannoosh reveals that shortly after his return to France in 1832, he had procured a book describing the various indigenous peoples of North Africa, from which he took notes on Riffs, Berbers, and Shluhs. And in 1843 he confessed, “I was never able to distinguish clearly the differences between races” (303) in North Africa. The voyage made him very much aware of the shortcomings of his own ethnographic understanding.

At the beginning of his draft of the article Delacroix remarked that “We were going to explore an unknown country about which people had the most bizarre and contradictory ideas. [...] A trip to Morocco at this time could seem as bizarre as a voyage to visit cannibals” (266). The quotation says something about his expectations going to Morocco, but it also implies that in the meantime the country has lost something of its exoticism. In his notes for the article, he wrote, “Since the conquest of Algiers, a trip to Morocco has lost much of its interest” (309). The texts Hannoosh has discovered suggest that we need to investigate how Delacroix’s representations of North Africa were affected by North Africa’s changing significance in France. Whereas many pictures from the first decade after his return—and especially those he exhibited at the Salon—represent urban and/or interior scenes and have a distinctly ethnographic character, those from the later period are primarily set in the outdoors and are populated by men who live close to nature, amidst vertiginous mountains, brilliant skies, stunning vegetation, sparkling oceans, and rushing rivers and streams. Some of the later pictures, in particular those of lions hunts, are overtly fantastic. Rather than considering Delacroix’s North African oeuvre as all of a piece, the new evidence provided by Hannoosh suggests we need to investigate how Delacroix understanding of the Maghreb changed as the colonial project expanded, and as representations of North Africa became a staple of French visual culture.

As is the case throughout this edition of the Journal, Hannoosh enhances our understanding of Delacroix by comparing his own account of things to those in other sources. For example, from the unpublished memoirs of the Swedish consul who was in Tangier at the same time as Delacroix, we learn that the artist barely escaped unscathed from a crowd of Moroccans in Tangier who saw him arrive at a masked ball cross-dressed as a Moor. In this case, Hannoosh’s discovery provides a vivid new vignette of Delacroix, but in other cases she uses her extraordinarily thorough and imaginative detective work to determine such things as the identity of people and events mentioned in Delacroix’s writings. This new edition is filled with such material. Particularly remarkable is her constant use of periodicals and memoirs to identify and elaborate upon the events, places, and people mentioned by Delacroix. She also possesses an impressive ability to recognize quotations and paraphrases of, and allusions to, a whole range of European literary sources.

Hannoosh’s substantial introduction gives a detailed account of her documentary research and editorial decisions, but it also develops larger ideas, similar to those in her earlier work, about Delacroix as a writer. She observes that the fragmentary, mobile, labyrinthine, contradictory, and chaotic aspects of the Journal are essential for appreciating the work’s significance. She explores the journal as a work of literature that has its own temporality, its own personal voice, its own peculiar ways of relating the written to the visual, and that intertwines the individual and the collective, the personal and the public, in new and unique ways. She develops Delacroix’s conflicted attitude toward modernity, which he criticized bitterly even as he partook in its new pleasures and possibilities. And she examines Delacroix’s complex ideas about the relative merits of painting, music, and literature.

Hannoosh’s thousands of footnotes to Delacroix’s text often contain interpretive material as well, though these are usually confined to the identification of themes that particularly interested Delacroix. She often points the reader to similar passages elsewhere in the Journal and thus provides an invaluable guide to researchers pursuing a particular theme in the artist’s thought. For example, on December 11, 1853, Delacroix remarked that some lithographs by Théodore Géricault lacked a sense of composition, prompting him to reflect on the importance of the ensemble of an image, particularly in relation to its details. Hannoosh’s note (731) refers the reader to four later passages in which Delacroix returned to this entry and developed its ideas further. In another instance, in a part of the journal where Delacroix was considering topics for his never published Dictionnaire des beaux-arts (1064–1111), Hannoosh provides notes that refer the reader to various discussions of these topics elsewhere in the journal.

It seems likely that this edition will guide research on Delacroix in new directions. This is not just because of the new texts, but also because of Hannoosh’s practice of using footnotes to link thematically similar passages in the Journal. It is now far easier to trace his ideas. Hannoosh is especially attentive to his ideas about aesthetics. For example, there are many notes connecting passages on the similarities and differences between the arts, on the materiality and sensuality of painting and its ability to strike the viewer all at once, and on music as the most modern of the arts. Equally, she highlights Delacroix ideas about history and society, linking and sometimes analyzing important passages on civilization, on progress, and on the similarities and differences between humans and animals. She is also attentive to his ideas about modernity, noting his attitudes toward quintessentially modern experiences and dwelling on his understanding of modern states of mind such as ennui and distraction. These volumes give us both a new Journal and a user’s guide to it.

The fact that Hannoosh has been able to revise and augment substantially the textual corpus and documentary record of a major artist such as Delacroix raises questions about new possibilities for research in the field. How many other sources of similar importance await discovery? Why is it only now that this work has taken place? How could we rely on faulty and incomplete sources for so long? Of course, finding and publishing new sources depends upon the talent, knowledge, and perseverance of a researcher like Hannoosh. And documentary sources are important only insofar as they answer questions that are being asked: methods change; the archive can be fetishized. Still, much of this work could have been done long ago, and its importance would have been just as apparent then as it is now. It will be used by scholars engaged in the most recent of theoretical approaches as well as by those espousing the most positivist forms of interpretation. The implications seem clear: documentation remains at the center of art history even as its methods change, there is plenty more to be found, and anyone lamenting the supposed disappearance of empirical research would be better off actually doing some of it. Hannoosh is other things besides a documentarian—her interpretative work in these volumes as elsewhere is groundbreaking—but the documentary contribution of this edition is so basic and large as to make it a monument in the field.

David O’Brien
Associate Professor, University of Illinois


[1] Théodore Silvestre, Histoire des artistes vivants (Paris: E. Blanchard, 1856).

[2] Théodore Silvestre , Eugène Delacroix, documents nouveaux (Paris, M. Lévy, 1864); Achille Piron, Eugène Delacroix, sa vie et ses oeuvres (Paris: Claye, 1865; actually published in 1868).

[3] Eugène Delacroix, Journal, ed. Paul Flat et René Piot (Paris: Plon, 1893–95).

[4] Eugène Delacroix, Journal, ed. André Joubin (Paris: Plon, 1932, reedition in 1950).

[5] Eugène Delacroix, Journal, ed. André Joubin (Paris: Plon, 1981).

[6] Idem, 1996.

[7] “Delacroix au Maroc. Textes et dessins inédits présentés par Claude Roger-Marx,” Figaro littéraire (June 1863).

[8] Despite the fact that Hannoosh discovered these documents, another group of scholars published them in a small book. See Eugène Delacroix, Souvenirs d’un voyage dans le Maroc, ed. Laure Beaumont-Maillet, Barthélémy Jobert, and Sophie Join-Lambert (Paris: Gallimard, 1999). Hannoosh’s new edition corrects errors in transcription, interpretation, and arrangement of the manuscripts in this book.