Eugène Delacroix, Portrait of Charles de Verninac, ca. 1826. Oil on canvas, 24 ¼ x 19 7/8 in. (61.6 x 50.5 cm). FAMSF, museum purchase, Roscoe and Margaret Oakes Income Fund, 2014.80.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco announced the acquisition of the Portrait of Charles de Verninac, by Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863). This is the first painting by the artist to enter the Museums’ collection, which strengthens the institution’s holdings of French Romantic paintings of the early nineteenth century.
“The Legion of Honor is one of the great repositories of French art in the United States,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Delacroix’s arresting portrait is an important addition to our collections; it is a work that had great personal significance for the artist and it is an outstanding example of French Romanticism.”
Delacroix was one of the foremost practitioners of Romanticism, and was best known for his imposing and dramatic compositions. He also was an accomplished portraitist and this painting offers intimate insight into the artist’s works. The sitter, Charles Étienne Raymond Victor de Verninac (1803–1834), was Delacroix’s nephew, with whom he shared a close relationship and a prolific correspondence.
Delacroix and de Verninac were born only five years apart and were raised alongside one another on the family’s property in southwestern France. As Delacroix became a critically acclaimed painter, his nephew pursued a career in the foreign ministry. When serving as viceconsul to Chile in 1834, de Verninac contracted yellow fever in Vera Cruz and died a few months later while under quarantine in New York. This painting held life-long significance for Delacroix—in his will, the artist referred to this portrait as the one hanging over his bed.
“This deeply personal portrait is one of the finest executed by Delacroix, clearly due in part to the affection he held for the sitter,” said Esther Bell, curator in charge of European paintings. “The artist’s bravura brushwork can be seen in the curling sweeps of de Verninac’s hair and the thick and confident strokes of red that compose his cravat.”
This portrait can be dated to around 1826, soon after Delacroix’s return to Paris from London in 1825. The paintings that he had encountered in that city, notably those by Sir Thomas Lawrence (English, 1769-1830), influenced the artist’s use of contrasting pure colors—bright red against white—and the elegance and looseness of posture and dress.
The Museums’ Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts holds a number of drawings, lithographs, and engravings by Delacroix. Though this painting is a new acquisition, this is not the first time that it has been on view at the Legion of Honor: it was on long-term loan from 1947 until 1950, exhibited as a part of the Arthur Sachs collection.
Delacroix was one of the greatest and most influential French artists of the nineteenth century. In his electrically charged scenes from contemporary history, literature, poetry, or religion, as well as in his quiet and contemplative portrayals of intimate life, his painting style championed the use of unbridled color over line. His dramatic compositions were frequently placed in critical contrast to the more classicizing forms of his arch-rival Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (17801867).