Community-Based Resource Support Art History: The Clark

Little-known Work by Eugène Delacroix on View at Clark Art Institute

Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863), The Martyrdom of Saint Sulpicius, c. 1847-50. Private Collection. Photo courtesy Clark Art Institute.

The Martyrdom of Saint Sulpicius (c. 1847-50) is a little-known but magnificent oil study by French artist Eugène Delacroix, which was displayed only once in 1930.

“One of the great things about being a curator is having the opportunity to encounter and study works of art that haven’t been widely known or exhibited to the public, and in turn to be able to share this knowledge with a larger audience. Delacroix’s The Martyrdom of Saint Sulpicius is one of those wonderful opportunities. There is a great deal to be learned and shared about a work like this that is quite exciting, and gives you the sense that you are unraveling a mystery of sorts,” said Lara Yeager-Crasselt, the Clark’s interim curator of paintings and sculpture.

“Art history is often thought of as being a static discipline—learning the dates of paintings and recognizing artists—but it is extraordinary in the way that it remains a living, breathing discipline that engages the objects themselves as much as the historical and cultural contexts that shaped them, in their own time and in their history thereafter. There are always challenges inherent in that pursuit and this painting is a wonderful example of that kind of challenge.”

For the past several months, members of the Clark curatorial team have been researching the study to determine its place in Delacroix’s oevre. This painting is thought to have been a preparatory work for Delacroix’s last major commission, the murals in the Chapelle des Saints-Angnes at Saint-Sulpice in Paris. The work also relates to Delacroix’s artistic interests from the period, including his admiration for the seventeenth-century Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens.

This opportunity offers a beautiful example of Delacroix’s vigorous and confident handling of paint and color, and of the effects of light and shadow. This work provides viewers and excellent example of his creative process and brushwork, his sensitivity to the use of accents of color, and ultimately his ability to create a powerful and emotionally charged scene of martyrdom. In addition, viewers have the opportunity to view a work of art barely known to the rest of the world.

The exhibit is on display at the Clark Art Institute. 413-458-2303. 225 South Street, Williamstown, MA (FREE W/ADMISSION)

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