Mouse or Cat

Eugène Delacroix, the great French Romantic painter, had a cat. And from his cat the artist made deft leaps with his imagination to produce a tiger or a lion.[1] Nevertheless he brought form to his work by studying wildlife and nature. Akin to the naturalist, his nineteenth century peer, Delacroix painstakingly observed everything from the waddling of a swallow to the branching of a tree, and ruminated on man’s position in the universe, the debates of the day undoubtedly gnawing at him—“For what do the Parthenon…or so many other miracles of art signify to the march of the seasons, or to the courses of the stars, the rivers and the winds? An earthquake…can destroy them in the twinkling of an eye.” He took time away from his epic paintings of history and scenes of North Africa to sketch at the Jardin des Plantes, Paris’s natural history museum, beginning in January 1847. He wrote in his journal of his first visit, “I had a feeling of happiness as soon as I entered the place and the further I went the stronger it grew. I felt my whole being rise above commonplaces and trivialities and the petty worries of my daily life. What an immense variety of animals and species of different shapes and functions!”

So it’s hard to say where Delacroix found the mice for these five studies in this print above—in the museum or closer to home, his writings do not give that away. Nor does he confess whether his drawing of these small rodents were due to his finding the creature charming or whether it was, ironically perhaps, due to his curiosity about the cat.

[1] According to Alfred Robaut who catalogued the painter’s work. As told in The Journal of Eugène Delacroix, translated by Lucy Norton.

(image reproduced for non-commercial use only)

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