Delacroix’s Arab with His Steed or Turk Leading His Horse (c. 1832-3)

Not much has been written about this watercolor by Delacroix other than to question its attribution and discuss its date. The former, I hope to show, is no longer in doubt while its date merely concerns whether it depicts an Arab or Turk. I agree with Jobert that the man and landscape are North African and thus can only have been drawn after Delacroix's return from Morocco in 1832. There is more, though, than just a pretty scene. I'll show you how.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Delacroix, Arab with His Steed or A Turk Leading His Horse (c. 1832-3) Watercolor on white wove paper. Greville Winthrop Collection, Harvard

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Whenever a great artist from France, Spain or Italy places a horse horizontally across the picture plane you can be fairly certain that they are playing on the word for easel which in each of those languages derives from the word horse. In French the word is chevalet. In this picture the Arab represents Delacroix himself "painting" the horse in front of him but with a giant mirror the other side of his easel. Thus what we see is reflected in the mirror of his mind.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Delacroix, Arab with His Steed or A Turk Leading His Horse (c. 1832-3) Watercolor on white wove paper. Greville Winthrop Collection, Harvard

Click image to enlarge.

The Arab holds a piece of rope, the same piece, perhaps that Delacroix places above his signature at bottom and draws in the same dark brown ink as his signature. He signals by its duplication and placement that the object whatever it represents is, on another level, the artist's "paintbrush." The Arab in restraining his horse is "painting" it while his turban  refers back to those worn by artists for hundreds of years to keep paint off their hair. Van Eyck and Rembrandt, among other artists, can be seen wearing them in their self-portraits.

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Detail of Delacroix's Arab with His Steed

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This must be a composition by Delacroix because only he is likely to have embedded meaning unknown to most viewers. Even less likely to be known is the underlying purpose of the still-life in the right-hand corner. Jobert calls it characteristic of Delacroix in that it "establishes contact with the viewer." More significantly, I believe, it establishes contact with the artist on this side of the paper. Only Delacroix would have formed the back of the saddle into a large D for Delacroix. He may have intended an E for Eugène as well in some parallel lines though that is not certain.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Detail of Delacroix's Arab with His Steed
Bottom: 
Diagram of image above

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I have shown before how horses signify easels in other works by Velazquez, Delacroix and Manet and also how Delacroix turned unsuspecting items into the form of his own initial. Like other artists Delacroix has fused his activity in the studio with his memory of Morocco thus implying that the Arab's attempt to restrain his frisky, and perhaps wild, horse is an allegory of the artist's own creative struggle to fix the fleeting image in his mind on paper.  

Captions for image(s) above:

Delacroix, A Turk Leading His Horse or Arab with Steed (c. 1832-3) Watercolor on white wove paper. Greville Winthrop Collection, Harvard

Click image to enlarge.

Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 04 Aug 2012. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.