Fantasia arabe, 1833

In 1832, Delacroix finally embarked on the journey to Morocco he had wanted to take for so long. It was before the gates of Meknes that he experienced what we see in this painting: a “fantasia”, a traditional military game played on horseback. Thus what you see here is not invention but memory. The painting’s composition and mode of execution mirror something of the artist’s fascination with the wild, with the tumultuous event. Whereas Delacroix devoted less attention to the landscape, he concentrated all the more strongly on the horsemen and their steeds. Enveloping them in dust and gunsmoke, he has drawn the group together in a single body. Yet every horse and every rider is seen in a different phase of the well-studied sequence of movements. The result is immensely dynamic turmoil. But then comes Delacroix’s show-stopper: in alarming proximity to the wild hoofs, a Bedouin sits on the ground, calmly observing the events – somewhat in the manner of the present-day movie-goer watching an action scene. It is only now that we, the viewers, realise that this is just a game.

And nevertheless life in all its glory! Delacroix strove for an art that was to be filled with as much “true” life as possible. That made him the most important painter of French Romanticism and a source of inspiration for the Impressionists.

Oil on canvas
60.5 × 74.5 cm
Inv. No. 1466
Property of the Städelscher Museums-Vereins e.V.

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