Medium: Oil On Canvas
Size: 55 x 92 cm
Delacroix sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 17-19 February 1864, lot 99; Bouché de Saint Aignan; Raymond de Cahuzac (by August, 1864; sale 14 November 1887, lot 6); Monsieur Foinard; Seguy sale, 21 March 1898, lot 19; Baron Blanquet de Fulde (sale, 12 March 1900, lot 25); Léon L’hermitte; Jacques Dupont, Paris; Private Collection.
A. Moreau, Delacroix et son oeuvre, Paris, 1873, no. 99, p. 315; A. Robaut, L’oeuvre complete d’Eugène Delacroix, peintures, dessins, gravures et lithographies, Paris, 1885, no. 1407, p. 378 (dated 1860); R. Escholier, Delacroix, peintre, gravure, écrivain, vol. III, Paris, 1929, p. 259; L. Johnson, “The Delacroix Centenary in France,” The Burlington Magazine, (July, 1963), p. 302; P. Georgel, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Delacroix, Paris, 1984, no. 791 (ill. p. 182); L. Johnson, The Painting of Eugène Delacroix, A Critical Catalogue 1832-1863, Oxford, 1986, vol. III, no. M6, pp. 159, 301-02 (ill. vol. IV, pl. 318); Delacroix les dernières années, exh. cat., Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, 1998, under no. 137, pp. 322-24; The painting will be included in the forthcoming supplement to Lee Johnson’s catalogue raisonné of Delacroix’s works.
Paris, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Eugène Delacroix, 1864, no. 109; Paris, Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Delacroix, 6 March – 15 April 1885, no. 42 (entitled La Mort de Botzaris); Paris, Musée du Louvre, Eugène Delacroix 1798-1863, Exposition du Centenaire, May – September 1963, no. 528.
Markos Botzaris (1788-1823), one of the great heroes in the Greek War of Independence, was born at Suli, Albania. Botzaris’ early years were spent in the struggle between the Souliots of southern Epirus and Ali Pasha, who had made himself ruler of Ioánnina (Janina) in Epirus in 1788. After Ali Pasha succeeded in capturing the Souliot strongholds in 1803, Botzaris and most of his surviving clansmen fled to Corfu. He remained there for 16 years, serving in an Albanian regiment under French command. Strongly influenced by the European ideas of national independence and identity, he joined the patriotic society Philikí Etaireía in 1814.
Botzaris returned to Epirus with the Souliots in 1820 to join his former enemy Ali Pasha of Ioánnina in his revolt against the Turkish government and, after Ali Pasha was defeated, committed the Souliots to the Greek struggle for independence that had broken out in April 1821. After serving in the successful defence of the town of Missolonghi (Mesolóngion) during the first siege in 1822-23, he led a band of a few hundred Souliot guerrillas on the night of Aug. 21, 1823, in a bold attack on 4,000 Albanians encamped at Karpenisíon. The Albanians, who formed the vanguard of a Turkish army advancing to join the siege, were routed, but Botzaris, who had proved to be one of the most promising commanders of the Greek forces, was killed. When Botzaris died, his brother Kosta succeeded, although command of the Souliots passed to his friend Lord Byron, who formed 50 of them into a personal bodyguard at Missolonghi.
The present painting is the lower right section of Delacroix’s Botzaris Surprises the Turkish Camp at First Light and Falls Fatally Wounded, a painting which he began on commission from the Marseille merchant M. Rodocanachi in 1862, but left unfinished upon his death the following year. Delacroix had been interested in depicting this subject as early as 1824, during the time he was at work on the Chios Massacres. In April of that year, he wrote in his journal: “Il faut faire une grande esquisse de Botzaris: les Turcs épouvantés et surpris se précipitant les uns sur les autres” (A. Joubin ed., Journal de Eugène Delacroix, Paris, 1950, I, 76). A number of drawings in the Louvre have been connected with this early phase of the project, of which the most important is a large watercolor depicting the death of Botzaris (Cabinet des Dessins, inv. no. R.F. 10.032).Thirty-eight years later, in the fall of 1862, Delacroix returned to the subject of Botzaris at Rodocanachi’s request. Around this time, Delacroix executed a large preparatory oil sketch now in the Toledo Art Museum (23-5/8 by 28-3/4 inches), as well as a pencil study for the cannon on the left of the composition (Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins, inv. no. R.F. 9827).
The final painting was over two meters long. By 1898, it had been cut down to its present size, showing the most complete part of the composition and the crucial moment of the hero’s death. However, an early copy of the entire composition shows that it closely followed the design established in the Toledo oil sketch (ill. Johnson, op. cit., III, p. 310, fig. 65). Silvestre, who saw the final picture intact in 1864, wrote that with two days more work, it would have become a magnificent painting (T. Silvestre, Eugène Delacroix, Documents nouveaux, Paris, 1964, p. 14). This work demonstrates that even in his last years Delacroix was a brilliant and inventive painter, his energy and genius still as powerful as ever.