Delacroix's Lyric Form

November 8, 2018

4:30 pm ∙ 106 McCormick Hall



When Eugène Delacroix’s The Prisoner of Chillon was first presented to the public in the Salon of 1835, it sparked a debate about the painting’s relation to its literary model, Byron’s poem of the same title. While the conceptual framework from Lessing’s Laocoon made it possible to compare the narrative structures of the two works, this framework proved to be insufficient for discussing a problem the painting raised that really mattered to art critics: Can a pictorial representation render the subjective experience expressed in Byron’s poem? Is it possible to paint in the first-person singular? And if so, how can you represent the “I” if its formation and destruction is the very theme of the poem? In my lecture, I will propose that Delacroix created a lyric form of painting through engaging with these questions since his artistic beginnings in the early 1820s. I will further argue that The Prisoner of Chillon served as template for reiterating this lyric form in various later works. Finally, I will suggest that the formalist interpretation of Delacroix’s work, which already appears in the artist’s own writings, can be understood as a reductionist understanding of its lyric form.