Eugène Delacroix in Morocco, the journey of a lifetime

“I thought I was dreaming,” Eugène Delacroix had launched on his arrival in Tangier. In 1832, the famous French painter made a six-month inauguration trip to Morocco, followed by a tribute exhibition in Rabat, the capital of the kingdom.

On the dazzling red-orange picture rails at the Mohammed VI Museum in Rabat (MMVI), about thirty paintings, drawings, engravings, lithographs and sketches offer a breathtaking dive into the Moroccan period of the master of French romance for the exhibition “Delacroix souvenirs from a trip to Morocco “, from 7 July to 9 October 2021.

“This journey nourished his work and gave it a new dimension. Upon his return, he will exhibit paintings reminiscent of Morocco every year,” explains in an interview with AFP Claire Bessède, co-curator of the exhibition and director of the Eugène Delacroix Museum in Paris.

At the age of 34, the painter of “Liberty Leading the People” (1830), already at the height of his career, agreed to accompany a French delegation accused by King Louis-Philippe with a diplomatic mission to Sultan Moulay Abderrahmane.

“He had no political role, his motivation was to discover the Orient through Morocco. This is unprecedented because in his life he made only two trips, to England and to Morocco,” Ms Bessede recalls.

– “Inspiration Pool” –

During this Moroccan stay, the artist hides in several notebooks candles, landscapes, facial features, simple or ceremonial costumes … He draws, makes watercolors, takes notes and then paints when he returns to Paris and until the end of his time. life in 1863.

“He is one of Morocco’s first ambassadors for light,” Abdelaziz El Idrissi, co-curator of the exhibition and director of MMVI in Rabat, told AFP.

Tangier, his first window on Morocco, “fascinates” him, according to Mrs Bessède. Then begins a journey along the country road that leads him to Meknes, further south, where he meets the Sultan: a “marking” moment that he will immortalize in one of the most famous paintings of this period.

This painting, painted more than ten years after its expedition, did not reach the trip to Rabat because it is “very fragile”, states the director of the Paris Museum.

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But a sketch made just after his return is on display at the museum: this beautiful piece, where only silhouettes can be distinguished, shows the audience from the French delegation before the seventh sovereign of the Alaouite dynasty.

In the absence of major works from his Moroccan period, such as “Jewish Wedding in Morocco” (1839), the exhibition, arranged in collaboration with the Louvre and the Delacroix Museum, provides a clever idea of ​​the artist’s studio. , with the issue of memory as the focal point.

When Delacroix returned to France, Delacroix had taken with him a range of crafts of all kinds, “a true pool of inspiration that will follow him from workshop to workshop until his death,” the commissioner clarified.

– “Too late” –

These objects, around the sixty, serve as the exhibition’s common thread: musical instruments (tambourine, lute, violin), clothing (caftans, tunics, socks), ceramics or weapons (saber, powder bags, band oils).

An inexhaustible source of inspiration for the artist prevalent in his various orientalist works, such as “Camp arabe, la nuit” (1863), where men dressed in djellabaer sigh around a bonfire, or even “Comédiens or arabic jugglers” (1848), a representation of musicians playing lute, in the open air, surrounded by a few figures.

“The paintings from the Moroccan period are out of date. Delacroix was not in a literal interpretation of Morocco, he created his own view of the country”, analyzes Ms. Bessède.

This unique look will somehow force European artists to settle in Morocco: “It will take Moroccan culture with it beyond the southern Mediterranean and will open the eyes of European artists to this unusual destination at that time”, notes . Sir. Idrissi.

The end of the exhibition is also dedicated to Moroccan paintings by certain artists who traveled to the kingdom in the footsteps of Delacroix: there are about ten paintings by the French Orientalists Benjamin Constant and Louis-Auguste Girardot, from the British Frank Brangwyn, but also by the master of French fauvism, Henri Matisse.

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