Delacroix’s Lion Devouring a Rabbit (1856)

All who write about Delacroix's interest in the feline have acknowledged that lions play a central role in how he understands man's place in the universe. They were, for him, "the antithesis of all that man stands for as a rational being." Nevertheless, in his Journals "the lion is a metaphor for creative and heroic man."1 Besides, the lion combines kingship, a traditional attribute of the purified soul, with raw nature. Here one chews up a rabbit thereby changing its form, not unlike how Delacroix changed one shape into another by "chewing it over" in his mind. How can we know for certain, though, what is happening here?

Click next thumbnail to continue
 

Captions for image(s) above:

Delacroix, Lion Devouring a Rabbit (1856) Oil on canvas. Louvre, Paris

Click image to enlarge.

For a start the glimpse of an acute angle formed by the rocks and grass on the right (see diagram) is highly significant because it allows us to see beyond the principal subject in the foreground to some open expanse beyond. It is a motif fairly commonly used by poetic painters (you'll have to take my word on this one) to represent the "corner of the artist's own eye." The lion is behind Delacroix's eye, inside the rock formation of his mind, masticating the rabbit which after this "creative struggle" will become his "painting". 

Click next thumbnail to continue

Captions for image(s) above:

Diagram of Delcroix's Lion Devouring a Rabbit 

Click image to enlarge.

The lion's tail, with its tip dark and bushy, is an obvious visual metaphor for a paintbrush (top). Here, though, it is also shaped like the E of Eugène in the artist's signature (bottom) while its rump is the D for Delacroix. The methods we reveal on this site are so little known by those who are not artists themselves that the presence of these two initials has probably never been noted before. I will be adding similar examples by Delacroix in the near future.

Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Detail of of Delcroix's Lion Devouring a Rabbit 
Bottom: Diagram of detail above

Click image to enlarge.

Notes:

1. Eve Kliman, "Delacroix's Lions and Tigers: A Link between Man and Nature", Art Bulletin 64, Sept. 1983, pp. 446-66, esp.446-7

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 01 May 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.