Delacroix’s Two Women at the Well (1832)

Delacroix's sketch of two women drawing water at a well reveals more than you might think. The gesture of the woman at left, her arm raised while turning to look out over her shoulder, is a relatively common sight in Delacroix's art and is reminiscent of many in Titian's art too.1

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Captions for image(s) above:

Delacroix, Two Women at the Well (1832) Ink and wash on paper. Louvre, Paris.

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In one of Delacroix's masterpieces, Women of Algiers painted two years later, the servant on the right has her arm raised, palm facing away, in the same manner as has the woman in the drawing. Both look out over their shoulder as well. As we have seen elsewhere many great artists depict a figure looking out over their shoulder to indicate the artist's own alter ego, an "artist" turning to check the model while facing a canvas or artwork in front of them.

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Delacroix, Women of Algiers (1834) Oil on canvas. Louvre, Paris

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Now check the shading. The shadow appears to be that of the woman's figure on the piece of paper itself. See how it descends from her hand and matches her torso's turn towards us. The woman is the "artist" using her hand to "draw" the other woman and herself: one an "artist", the other the "model" and her drawing. Not only does Delacroix use a woman to indicate the androgyny of his creative mind, but by doubling he unites subject and object in one figural type while appearing to paint a scene in North Africa. 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Delacroix, Two Women at the Well (1832) Ink and wash on paper

Click image to enlarge.

North Africa was Delacroix's idea of an earlier time, the vanished Eden, and the well from which the women draw water (or "ink wash") has Old Testament overtones suggesting our origins and the eternal wisdom of inner truth. Drawing water out of a well suggests that something is being drawn into daylight from deep in the earth like an esoteric idea hidden in the mind's darkness. Lastly, consider the vessels. The woman on the left holds hers as though it might be her inkpot; the one on the right is a relatively conventional image of a woman carrying water on her shoulder. Delacroix shows how an object can be seen on two levels, as an inkpot in the hand of the artist and as a natural part of the scene he depicts. 

Giambattista Tiepolo did an ink drawing with a very similar idea though it looks completely different. See the blog entry: Tiepolo's Magic Well.

Notes:

1. Examples from Titian include the largest apostle in the foreground of his early masterpiece, the Assunta (1516-18), and Mary Magdalene turned towards us in his late masterpiece, the Pietà (c.1575).

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 21 Sep 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.