The Musée National Eugène Delacroix is tucked away down a side street, in a small square, just north of Boulevard Saint-Germain. Even when you arrive at the address, the entrance to the museum is quite inconspicuous, and if it had not been for the fact that I recognised a portrait of the artist on an advertising hoarding next to the entrance door, our party might have walked right past. I was already congratulating myself on my knowledge of art: an A Level in Art History has not been without its uses.
The actual museum is quite small. A very enthusiastic receptionist directed us up an impressive flight of stairs where two rooms provided the main gallery space.
“Not much room for the Raft of the Medusa in here,” I said knowledgeably to one of my companions.
There were illustrations of lions from Delacroix’s time in North Africa, which I recognised, but without great enthusiasm.
“Of course, the Raft of the Medusa is in the Louvre,” I continued, authoritatively.
We paused and looked at every exhibit solemnly, but moved on quite quickly. In a small room there were reproductions of details taken from Delacroix’s religious murals from Saint Sulpice, but when the originals are possible to see in the great church only a couple of hundred metres away, these reproductions did not hold our eye for long.
“I suppose the Raft of the Medusa has to be considered his masterpiece,” I explained, still in tour leader mode.
Outside steps lead to a separate building, overlooking an attractive walled garden. Here is Delacroix’s actual studio. It is a spacious, impressive room, formally painted with dark red walls, which makes the space seem artificially dark.
“Amazing to think that the Raft of the Medusa was probably painted in this very room,” I said, trying to whip up our party’s flagging enthusiasm.
A pleasing diversion was had by the unfeasibly loud snores emanating from the chamber’s security guard, who had nodded off, sat in his chair, close to the exit door. It was not long before our party was heading for the exit ourselves.
I made a brief detour to the gift shop, with the hope of buying a postcard of the Raft of the Medusa, so that I could show my companions a picture of the great masterpiece we had missed but, even there I found myself thwarted: there was not a single image of the Raft of the Medusa to be found.
It was not until we were all standing outside the museum again that I voiced my surprise of the fact. It was left to one of my companions to elucidate me:
“I think you’ll find that’s because the Raft of the Medusa was actually painted by Théodore Géricault.”
© E. C. Glendenny
Travel writer, E. C. Glendenny, has a thing or two still to learn about art.