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

Combat d'un lion et d'un tigre

Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798-1863)
Combat d'un lion et d'un tigre
signed 'Eug Delacroix' (lower right) and indistinctly inscribed (lower left)
watercolour heightened with white on paper
9 7/8 x 8 in. (25.1 x 20.3 cm.)
Executed circa 1856.
The artist.
His posthumous sale, February 1864.
M. Christophe by 1885.
(probably) with Galerie Hector Brame, Paris.
Adolphe Moreau, Paris.
E. Esmond by 1930.
Private Collection, Paris.
Thence by descent to the present owner.
A. Robaut, L'oeuvre complet de Eugène Delacroix, Paris, 1885, p. 349, no. 1305 (illustrated).
L. Rudrauf, in Academiae Scientiarium Hungaricae, Acta Historiae Artium, vol. IX, Budapest 1963, p. 305, no. 8 (illustrated).
L. Johnson, The paintings of Eugène Delacroix, Vol. III, p. 22.
Musée national du Louvre, Exposition Eugène Delacroix; peintures, aquarelles, pastels, dessins, gravures, documents, June-September 1930, no. 613 (illustrated)
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Lot Essay

Throughout his life, Delacroix revealed in works of all media a profound fascination with big cat subjects. Although the present work is nominally North African, with a landscape clearly inspired by the Atlas Mountains, subjects involving wild animals were primarily vehicles through which Delacroix gave full rein to his Romantic imagination. The fictitious life-and-death fight between two animals that do not co-exist in the wild is a metaphor for the great struggles of civilization, which play such a central role in the artist's oeuvre. Indeed, as Johnson (op. cit.) points out, the pose of the two animals also recalls Delacroix's famous composition Jacob wrestling with the Angel, used as a mural for Saint-Sulpice.

Whether depicting battles between Turks and Greeks, the powers of Heaven and Hell, Christian and Muslim, or the heroes of literature and classical antiquity, many of Delacroix's paintings are unforgiving in their brutality. They reveal an obsession with power, colour and movement and a gladiatorial perspective that dictates only one victor. Consonant with this persepctive, Delacroix portrayed his big cats as both hunted and hunter: sometimes devouring other animals or even humans; sometimes themselves being hunted, pitilessly speared or torn apart by dogs.

In the present work Delacroix renders a sense of movement and power through strong colour and lively brushwork, which recall on a smaller scale the turbulent lion hunts of Rubens. Writing in his diary of his labours on the painted version of this work, Delacroix conveyed all the sense of vitality and emotion that he transferred into pictures: "I worked frienziedly until after three o'clock on the Combat of a lion and tiger".

This is the most finished in a series of works on paper depicting a fight between a lion and a tiger, and which also includes various pencil drawings - one in the Albertina, another in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (fig. 1), and several others in the Louvre - and a pen and ink drawing, the present whereabouts of which is unknown. This series served as a basis for an oil painting, now in the Oskar Reinhart Foundation, Winterthur (fig. 2), in which Delacroix kept the pose of the two animals locked in combat, but turned them on their side to create a horizontal composition.

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