Faust, the representation of the myth by Delacroix

Faust, the representation of the myth by Delacroix

  • Mephistopheles in the air.

    DELACROIX Eugène (1798 - 1863)

  • Faust in his office.

    DELACROIX Eugène (1798 - 1863)

  • Mephisto appearing to Faust in his study.

    DELACROIX Eugène (1798 - 1863)

  • Mephisto in the student tavern lighting the fire.

    DELACROIX Eugène (1798 - 1863)

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Title: Mephistopheles in the air.

Author : DELACROIX Eugène (1798 - 1863)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 27 - Width 23

Technique and other indications: Lithography.Mephistopheles in the air, 1st state of 5, 1828.

Storage location: Eugène Delacroix Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot website

Picture reference: 04-513975 / MD2004-15

Mephistopheles in the air.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

To close

Title: Faust in his office.

Author : DELACROIX Eugène (1798 - 1863)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 25 - Width 17

Technique and other indications: Lithography.Faust in his office, 5th state, 1827. Caption: "Poor empty skull what do you mean to me with your hideous squeak?"

Storage location: Eugène Delacroix Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot / C. Jean website

Picture reference: 04-513964 / MD2002-46

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Jean

To close

Title: Mephisto appearing to Faust in his study.

Author : DELACROIX Eugène (1798 - 1863)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Lithography.Mephisto appearing to Faust in his cabinet, 1828. Caption: "Meph: Why all the noise? What is Sir asking? What is there for his service?"

Storage location: Eugène Delacroix Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 97-004073 / SED1965-6

Mephisto appearing to Faust in his study.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

To close

Title: Mephisto in the student tavern lighting the fire.

Author : DELACROIX Eugène (1798 - 1863)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Lithography.Mephisto in the student tavern lighting the fire, 1828. Caption: "- Fire, help, hell lights up.- Witchcraft! Throw yourself on him ... his affair will not be long."

Storage location: Eugène Delacroix Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 97-004083 / SED1965-8

Mephisto in the student tavern lighting the fire.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: June 2009

Historical context

The Faust by Goethe at the turn of Sturm und Drang and romanticism

Delacroix, leader of the French romantic painters, is an artist of multiple talents, having left thanks to that of his pen numerous testimonies on the social, cultural and artistic context of his time. His diary as well as his correspondence compose a rich and inspired canvas which gives the thread, in the absence of the keys, of his production.

Delacroix leads the life of young romantics. A theatrical enthusiast, like the majority of his contemporaries, he assiduously frequents Parisian theaters and does not fail to attend the show when he travels.

The first part of the Faust de Goethe appeared in 1808 and quickly gave rise to multiple adaptations, illustrations and translations. But it was as early as 1824 that Delacroix noted in his Newspaper the interest he feels for this medieval figure, elevated to the rank of myth by an inspired Goethe who signs his masterpiece there.

Assistant in 1825 at a performance of Faust at the Drury Lane theater in London, he was struck by the theatricality of the subject. When the publisher Charles Motte asked him around 1826 to illustrate Stapfer's translation, Delacroix accepted the proposal, with the obvious awareness of being associated with a work that touched the universal.

Image Analysis

A wealth of treatment with regard to the diversity of text situations

To illustrate Stapfer's translation, Charles Motte ordered seventeen lithographs from Delacroix. These were then reproduced in isolated plates. The four lithographs presented in this study describe the two protagonists, their meeting and the beginning of their common adventures.

The Mephistopheles in the air, suspended above the city plunged into darkness, is the first lithograph in the series. Mephistopheles is central in Delacroix's approach to Goethe's work. The fallen angel hangs over the medieval city, the site of the triumph of money, of cultural change. Delacroix sets the scene, and the nudity of his Méphistophélès evokes by his musculature the strength of his power.

Comparatively, Faust in his office, presents the ascetic and desperate figure which addresses the skull, the object of all vanities: "Poor empty skull what do you mean to me ..." Faust is seized, overwhelmed by all his boredom, all his disillusions a few moments before thinking of suicide.

The appearance of Mephistopheles to Faust is treated in a completely different register: the decor is cluttered with the instruments of knowledge. The heavy, colorful curtain, the richness of the costumes, dramatize the scene: “Why all the noise? what does sir ask? what is there for his service? "

More anecdotal, the scene in the tavern evokes the comic that did not fail to strike Delacroix during the London performance: "They made an opera mixed with comedy and all that is blacker", he wrote to Pierret on June 18, 1825. “With fire, with help, hell lights up”, exclaim the young people at the sight of Méphistophélès' magic tricks which makes the wine flow and the fire. The frightened expression and the panic of the students contrast with the relaxation of a Méphistophélès who is frankly having fun while, behind him, Faust, rejuvenated, casts a contemptuous glance at those who are probably the famous students that “for ten years, [he] walks here and there by the nose ”.

Interpretation

Faust, a Promethean myth

By seizing on the character of Faust, Delacroix seizes on a myth that corresponds to the sensitivity of romanticism, the essential components of which are nostalgia, melancholy, and the pain of living. Faust appears from the start of the work in all the despair - which goes as far as the desire for suicide - linked to his human condition, circumscribed in the narrowness of a knowledge that in no way satisfies him. Faust gives himself up to Mephistopheles while despising him, while having the certainty of his superiority. His magic tricks hardly impress him.

The four lithographs show the link both close and distended between the two characters. To Faust the thirst for knowledge, the will to conquer the Ideal (which will fleetingly take on Marguerite's face), to Méphistophélès the magic, the sleight of hand while he remains subject to divine power. Méphistophélès stages, pulls the strings, shapes the props, but has no real power over Faust, much less over Marguerite.

At the beginning of the XIXe century, Faust supplants don Juan. If the two heroes present similarities - insatiable curiosity, thirst for domination, awareness of their superiority, amorous inconstancy - their differences place them on two very distinct registers: sensuality for don Juan and thought for Faust.

In the continuity of the myth of Orpheus, then of Don Juan, that of Faust, by the interest which it arouses in artists as eminent as Delacroix, will lastingly mark artists and intellectuals to the point of seeing in it a Promethean reading of the human condition.

  • Goethe (Johann Wolfgang von)
  • theater
  • romanticism
  • myth
  • actor
  • Nerval (Gérard de)
  • Art fair

Bibliography

Eugène Delacroix, Correspondence, 1815-1863, Quantin, Paris, 1878.Eugène DELACROIX, Newspaper, 1822-1863, Plon, Paris, 1996. Gérard GENGEMBRE, Romanticism in France and Europe, Pocket Classiques, Paris, 2003. Johann Wolfgang von GOETHE, Faust, new complete translation, in prose and in verse, by Gérard de Nerval, Dondey-Dupré, Paris, 1828. Avant Scène Opéra, Faust, n ° 2, Paris, 1976.

To cite this article

Catherine LEBOULEUX, "Faust, the representation of the myth by Delacroix"


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