Eugène Delacroix

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Eugène Delacroix
Mephistopheles Appears Before Faust
ca. 1824-1828
Pen and brown ink and wash over graphite.
8 x 6 7/16 inches (203 x 164 mm)
Thaw Collection.

An often overlooked or underrated aspect of Delacroix's work is his accomplishments as a book illustrator. The well-read artist counted many writers among his closest friends, and it is no surprise that the artist would have been drawn to Goethe's Faust and its moral complexity. The luxury book publishing industry flourished during the nineteenth century. Like many artists of his day, Delacroix frequently contributed to such volumes in the form of drawings for illustrations. Also, since he was a youth, Delacroix was well versed in English and German literature and remained involved with contemporary writers while exploring subjects drawn from Shakespeare, Byron, and others. Faust was first published in Germany in 1808 but soon became a European-wide phenomenon. Shortly after, illustrated editions appeared, and the outline drawings produced by Moritz von Retsch in 1821 had an impact on Delacroix. He was inspired by witnessing an 1824 performance in London to produce a series of scenes in an 1828 French edition of the poem. While his designs were underway, he received Goethe's approbation in 1826: "The French censure him for his wildness, but it suits him well here...And if I must confess that M. Delacroix has, in some scenes, surpassed my own notions..."
This scene of Mephistopheles before Faust was first roughly delineated in a pencil drawing (Houghton Library, Harvard University), which the artist then elaborated in wash, producing this finished study. He also made a lithograph and a painting (Wallace Collection, London) devoted to this first encounter between Goethe's protagonists; the figures appear in reverse, indicating that the wash drawing preceded the print and was followed by the canvas. The Thaw drawing served as the model composition, with the cool, demonic Mephistopheles, disguised as a scholar, alarms Faust as he is seated in his study. The adaption of the composition to the painting yielded a more expansive and elegantly proportioned scene that lacked the tension and almost claustrophobic anxiety captured in the small scale of the drawing.


Signed at lower margin in pen and brown ink, "Eug. Delacroix".
Watermark: none

Art market, Paris; private collection, Paris; Jill Newhouse, fall 1986, catalogue VII; Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw, New York.
Associated names: 

Newhouse, Jill, former owner.
Thaw, Eugene Victor, former owner.
Thaw, Clare, former owner.


The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, NY, "Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection", 2017. Exh. cat., no. 93, repr.
Denison, Cara D. et al. The Thaw Collection : Master Drawings and New Acquisitions. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1994, no. 70.

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