Musée d'Orsay: Léon Riesener Portrait of Eugène Delacroix

Léon Riesener
Portrait of Eugène Delacroix

Full face portrait of Eugène Delacroix, head and shoulders
Léon Riesener (1808-1878)
Full face portrait of Eugène Delacroix, head and shoulders
H. 6; W. 4.3 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / René-Gabriel Ojéda

Portrait d'Eugène Delacroix de face, en buste, 1842 [Portrait of Eugène Delacroix, head and shoulders, facing the camera]

This daguerreotype is the first known photograph of Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863). He was forty-four years old at the time and his contained energy and pride conjure up the wild beasts he so loved to paint. The portrait catches his usual studied elegance, the proud lift of his head and his customary faraway look.
The circumstances in which the photograph was taken are evident from Delacroix's letters. In 1842, exhausted by a respiratory disease, Delacroix asked if he could stay with his cousin Léon Riesener in the country at Frépillon (Val-d'Oise). On 13 March 1842, he told a friend that to take his mind off his weariness he was illustrating Götz von Berlichingen, a play written by Goethe in 1773, and having himself "daguerreotyped".

Riesener was also a painter and took an early interest in photography. Although it is small, the portrait of Delacroix shows his talent in capturing the rich, complex personality of his model, to whom he was quite close.
Later, in 1858, Delacroix was photographed by Nadar. Ill at the time, he hated his portrait and asked Nadar to destroy the plate, but the photographer kept it. Delacroix was also photographed by Carjat and Pierre Petit. But Riesener's portrait is the only one to show him with such youthful fire and fever.

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