This pencil and watercolour drawing is a sophisticated study for Delacroix's famous oil painting La Barque de Don Juan (fig. 1) painted in 1840, now in the Moreau-Nélaton collection at the Louvre. In this study, the figures are already placed as they appear in the finished painting. The scene is inspired by a passage in Byron's poem Don Juan, in which the shipwrecked Don Juan and his companions run out of food and organise a lottery to determine who will be sacrificed:
'The lots were made, and mark'd, and mix'd, and handed
In silent horror'
(Canto II, stanza 75)
Delacroix knew the work of Byron well and it remained a principal source of inspiration throughout his career. His painterly interpretation of this shipwreck, however, is a clear reference to Théodore Géricault's painting Le radeau de la Méduse which Delacroix had seen and admired at the Salon of 1819.
This drawing is both a fine demonstration of the artist's mastery and a key element in the conception of one his best works.