The enchanting and minuscule Place de Furstenberg was the location chosen by Eugene Delacroix for his abode and studio just five years before his death in 1873. Among chic French textile stores and expensive antique dealers, the spot exudes an air of coziness and prosperity as befits the area between the rue Jacob and the boulevard St. Germain. It is here that the museum carrying his name was created in 1971 after the crusading efforts of the Société des Amis d’Eugène Delacroix that until then kept the flame –and the premises-alive.
The present exhibition centers around a canvas on loan from the Musée d’Orsay and painted by Fantin-Latour in 1864 a year after the artist’s death and entitled: “Hommage à Delacroix”. Superbly composed and probably inspired by the Regents’ paintings of Frans Hals that Fantin-Latour was then discovering, its irresistible seduction remains unabated. An internal energy seems to emanate from each of the ten artists and writers that fill the canvas on both sides of a portrait of the master in spite of their solemnity and dignified allure. “Hommage” may well be, as some critics and the title of the canvas indicates, but the honored guests were far from sharing any ideological and aesthetic convictions. Champfleury and Duranty, champions of realism appear next to Whistler and Manet who could not care less about it and to Baudelaire who simply considered the word an abomination. They all came together to protest at the manner in which the authorities of the time handled the demise of the artist. The interpersonal dynamics of the characters in view and those invited that fail to appear are woven in the narrative of the exhibition through letters, invitations and press cuttings. The sketches and proofs of Fantin’s previous attempts to compose his homage illustrate the creative rearrangements that the project underwent. With some extra knowledge of the oeuvre of those involved, the viewer can understand the dramatic significance that the true homage represents: a profound turn in the manner of painting, the admiration by a new generation of artists of a pioneering precursor and the divergent paths followed by those looking at the viewer from the painting.
As might be expected both Delacroix and Fantin-Latour remain secondary actors in the historic vortex that the exhibition so adeptly illuminates. It is a forgivable shortcoming but it is particularly deplored on the side of Fantin-Latour whose creativity oscillated between his dreams of the ideal and the more austere and rigorous view of reality that was at the bottom of his personality. He deserves a reexamination.