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Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798-1863)
Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798-1863)

Archimède tué par le soldat de Marcellus

Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798-1863)
Archimède tué par le soldat de Marcellus
signed 'Eug. Delacroix' (lower left)
oil on canvas
17 ¼ x 14 in. (43.8 x 35.6 cm.)
Painted circa 1846.
Paul-Bernard Barroilhet (1810-1871), Paris.
His sale; Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 12 March 1855, lot 17, as Archimèdes.
David Michau, Paris, by 1873.
His estate sale; Escribe, Paris, 11-13 October 1877, lot 17, as Archimède (le jour de la prise de Syracuse).
Private collection, Paris.
with Roland, Browse & Delbanco, London, 1964.
Bernard Soloman, Los Angeles, acquired directly from the above, 1967.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 30 November 1971, lot 41.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, New York, 19 May 1978, lot 4 (erroneously catalogued as on panel).
Private collection, Japan, acquired at the above sale.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner.
A. Moreau, E. Delacroix et son œuvre, Paris, 1873, pp. 212, 256.
A. Robaut, L'Œuvre complet de Eugène Delacroix, Paris, 1885, p. 331, no. 1236 (erroneously dated 1854).
M. Du Camp, Souvenirs littéraires, vol. II, Paris, 1883, p. 293.
L. R. Bortolatto, L'opera pittorica completa di Delacroix, Milan, 1972, p. 126, no. 694, as La morte di Archimede.
L. Johnson, The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix: A Critical Catalogue, Oxford, 1986, vol. III, pp. 113-114, no. 287, also vol. IV, pl. 87, illustrated, as Archimedes killed by a Roman soldier.
C. F. Ives et al., Daumier Drawings, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1992, p. 108, illustrated.
Paris, Galeries Bonne-Nouvelle, Explication des ouvrages de peinture de la collection P. Barroilhet, 1852, p. 20, no. 131 bis, as Archimède.
Bern, Kunstmuseum Bern, Eugène Delacroix, 16 November 1963-19 January 1964, no. 81.
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, on long-term loan, 1973-1977.
Tochigi, Prefectural Art Museum, Peintures françaises du rococo à l'école de Paris, 26 July-18 August 1985, pp. 35, 123, no. 12, illustrated.

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Lot Essay

By the 1840s Eugène Delacroix was already well-established as the central figure of the Romantic movement in France. Now in his 40s himself, the artist entered the more mature phase of his career, turning his ambition away from the Salons, where he had already achieved great acclaim, and toward more official commissions for decorative programs. Among these was the commission for the ceiling of the Deputies' Library of the Palais Bourbon (executed between 1838-1847), where Delacroix first treated the subject of Archimedes as one of the four hexagonal pendentives in the cupola dedicated to the sciences, alongside paintings of Aristotle, Pliny the Elder and Hippocrates.
The present painting is a variant of the Palais Bourbon pendentive. Dated by Moreau and Robaut to 1854, Lee Johnson believes that the work was actually painted around 1846, close to when the artist was coming to the end of his work on the Palais Bourbon. As the Science cupola was among the first parts of the decorative program to be worked out (in about 1841), Johnson does not believe that the present painting was preparatory for the decoration, but rather a later, independent variant. Not only does this composition vary in small ways from the Palais Bourbon pendentive – the costume and positioning of the soldier, the pose of Archimedes, and the inclusion of the books on the ledge behind the great mathematician are all different in the present work – but the rectangular formatting of the picture, and the fact that it is signed by the artist, also suggest this version was intended by Delacroix to be an independent composition.
The subject is the death of Archimedes of Syracuse (c. 287-212 B.C.), considered to be the greatest mathematician of antiquity and the founder of physics. Although few details of his life are known, the story of his death, recorded by Plutarch, has been well-preserved by history and has long been a popular subject for artists. During the second Punic War, Archimedes invented military machines which enabled Syracuse to withstand a two-year-long siege from Roman troops under the command of General Marcus Claudius Marcellus. Marcellus was so impressed with what Archimedes had designed that he ordered the mathematician to appear before him when he finally captured the city. According Plutarch, Archimedes was so preoccupied with his work that he declined to meet Marcellus until he had solved the problem he was working on. Enraged, the soldier that had been sent to bring him to the general killed Archimedes for his refusal. With his mind still on his work, the mathematician’s last words are purported to have been 'obsecro, istum disturbare' – 'I beg of you, do not disturb this.’
The subject of the fall of civilizations, and the conflict between intellect and brute strength were topics that clearly appealed to Delacroix’s Romantic imagination, and recur throughout the artist’s career. However these themes must have felt particularly urgent to Delacroix during the tumultuous years of the mid-1840s, as the first stirrings of the Revolution of 1848 began to arise. In both his writing and his art during the 1840s, Delacroix seems to be preoccupied with this conflict between civilization and barbarism, to the extent that later scholars have seen this dialectic as the overarching theme of his decoration of the Palais Bourbon library more generally, as the decoration opens with Attila and His Barbarian Hordes Overrunning Italy and the Art at one end of the room, and Orpheus Comes to Govern the Still Savage Greeks and Teach Them the Arts of Peace at the other (see M. Hannoosh, ‘Delacroix and the Ends of Civilizations’ in Delacroix and the Matter of Finish, exh. cat., 2013).
Born only a few years after the Reign of Terror ended, Delacroix himself had experienced this clash firsthand on multiple occasions throughout his own life. As the artist would later comment in his diary, ‘recent periods of dreaded memory have showed that the barbarian and even the savage still lived in civilized man’ (3 March 1860). In fact, in his own notes on the present composition Delacroix uses this same language to refer to the Roman soldier slaying Archimedes, describing him as a ‘barbarian.’ Though at this point he was not still painting the overtly political subjects that he had during the first two decades of his career, in Archimède tué par le soldat de Marcellus, it is hard not to see the turbulent political events of Delacroix’s own life as a pretext for his interest in returning to this unusual subject.

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