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Eugène Delacroix

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The Death of Sardanapalus, 1844

About the Artwork

When Eugène Delacroix showed his huge painting inspired by Lord Byron's play Sardanapalus in the Paris Salon of 1827-28, he changed the history of art completely. With its appearance the splendor and opulence of Baroque painting returned full force, putting to question all the restraint and clarity that had been revered as classical truths. It marked the coming of age of Romanticism and launched the thirty-year-old Parisian's meteoric career. Yet for all its notoriety, Delacroix's painting, now in the Louvre in Paris, was not sold until 1846, when, it is thought, the Museum's quickly worked picture was done as a reprise (in much reduced proportions). The artist's obvious pleasure in mixing color and relaying drama remains undiminished in the copy, as Delacroix records the last moments of the Assyrian king. As his palace is besieged, Sardanapalus reclines on a sumptuous bed atop an immense pyre that will soon be set aflame, and orders the slaughter of all his women, his attendants, and even his horses and dogs, so that no objects of his pleasure would outlive him. Joseph J. Rishel, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 190

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