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Eugène Delacroix - Young orphan girl in the cemetery

by Alexandra Tuschka

What is there in the upper right corner, looking at the young and pretty girl? She almost looks a bit frightened. She is no longer a child, but not yet a woman either - we see a young pretty girl with a full head of dark hair, loosely pinned together at the nape of her neck. A few curls have come loose. She wears no jewelry, only a simple dress of a white top and green skirt can be seen, all a bit out of place. The exposed shoulder is not without erotic appeal, but also reinforces the reading direction of the image to the upper right. The background, however, takes away any possible lightness from the front scene. Graves and crosses pave the ground, some of them overturned. Upon closer inspection, we may discover a tear on the girl's cheek. The choice of colors is limited to dull browns, greens and yellows, which enhance the gloomy and desolate mood. The whole work appears bathed in an evening twilight. This early work by Delacroix lacks the dynamism and warm colors that he adopted after his trip to Morocco in 1832, about 8 years after this work.

As an overall impression, the painting gives the impression of melancholy absolute loneliness. The numerous references to the nameless dead in the background is juxtaposed with the girl's youth. Nothing about her sits right anymore - why should it? - one might ask, when - as the title of the picture says - she has already outlived her parents as an orphan. The look upwards is sometimes read as a search for God or the questioning of divine providence. Also, to this day, many art historians see in the work a preliminary study to the much larger and figure-rich painting "The Massacre of Chio "s, which was painted in 1824, probably the same year, and shows a rather similar female figure on the left edge of the picture. With her it was a beggar woman engaged by the artist, who appears quite similarly arranged, but with closed eyes. This figure also appears more feminine. In the "Young Orphan Girl in the Cemetery", in contrast to the detailed and carefully executed front figure, we find the background quite blurred. This supports the thesis.

Be that as it may, the work has long stood on its own and is often copied by contemporary artists as well, captivating the viewer in the Louvre. The omission of the element that makes the young orphan so frightened and sad is able to keep the viewer in psychological suspense. Everyone is urged to think the motif through to the end: is there someone else there, or is it a matter of an inner emotion?

Eugène Delacroix - Young Orphan Girl in the Cemetery

Oil on canvas, 1823-24, 66 x 54 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris

Eugène Delacroix - The massacre of Chios

Oil on canvas, 1824, 419 x 354 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris


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