Charles VI and Odette de Champdivers
(Eugène Delacroix)


Known until its recent cleaning from a poor quality black and white illustration in Johnson’s monograph, this painting has now been revealed to be extremely well-preserved, never having been lined, with a rich impasto and brilliant palette. It is one of a series of small paintings of similar dimensions that Delacroix produced during the 1820s, almost always treating an historical subject with some direct literary connection. The artist himself describes in his journal (April 9th, 1824) his intention: “to do several little pictures, but all labors of love” and it is apparent from the extraordinary detail in fabric and jewels that this picture, in particular, was one to which Delacroix devoted himself enthusiastically. [1] There is some difference of opinion among scholars as to when the Charles VI was painted between 1824 and 1826 but, as Johnson has pointed out, its direct reference to an incident in the opera Charles VI, by Daniel Halévy, which had its première on March 6th, 1826, may indicate the later year.

Delacroix seems to have been fascinated with the theme of inner torment and how it affected great figures in history and the arts, or scorned women. Don Quixote in his Library (1824), The Penance of Jane Shore (1824), Tasso in the Hospital of St Anne (1824), Blind Milton Dictating “Paradise Lost” (1827/8) and Cromwell contemplating the Portrait of Charles I (1828/30), are each treatments of profound emotions and were painted on a similar scale to our picture. Charles VI (1368-1422) was the unhappiest of French kings, his country having suffered appalling losses during the war with England and his own mind disturbed by violent and uncontrollable fantasies. His feelings for his wife, Isabeau of Bavaria, alternated between passion and dislike, and her public infidelities caused him great distress. Only his sister-in-law Valentina Visconti (wife of the Duke of Orléans) and, according to Halévy’s account, his mistress Odette de Champdivers, were able to exercise any control, although later he was to rely on Valentina’s son, Charles, for advice and support. Here the king, his face tortured by despair and anguish, reaches for his sword while attendants try and wrest it from him; turning towards his mistress he seems to plead for pity and understanding. Holding his hand she calmly admonishes him and we may hope that the incident ends peaceably. It seems likely that Delacroix intended to relate this picture directly to Louis of Orléans exposing his mistress (Lugano, Thyssen Collection), which is painted on an identical sized canvas, in a very similar style. They were painted within a few months of each other and, although our painting first belonged to the dealer Duval le Camus, by 1832 both were the property of Frederic Leblond, a close friend of the artist with whom he was already well-acquainted by 1823.
Even more significant is their subject matter. Although Charles and Louis were brothers they were very different personalities; while the king had adored his wife before the onset of his illness and maintained intermittent monogamous relationships with only three known mistresses, Louis was a flagrant libertine, constantly disloyal to his wife, who pursued a series of women and fathered a large brood of illegitimate children. Charles was shy and retiring, while Louis was forceful and outgoing and, while our painting portrays a man turning to the woman he loves for help, Louis vulgarly exposes his naked mistress to her husband, humiliating her, while concealing her face so that the cuckolded husband fails to recognise his wife.

Delacroix’s recurrent references to the theme of scorned women or disadvantaged mistresses (note not only Jane Shore cited above, but also the two versions of the Abduction of Rebecca from Ivanhoe among others), may be the legacy of his own childhood. His attractive mother, Victoire, the daughter of the cabinet-maker Oeben, is known to have had an affair with Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, the great survivor of the ancien régime who served every government save that of Charles X from 1790 until his death (it has even been proposed that Talleyrand was the artist’s real father). She played a major role in his upbringing as his father, Charles Delacroix, had died in 1805 when Delacroix was seven, leaving her a widow until her own death in 1814. From thenceforth he was cared for by relatives, particularly his brother Charles, a general, whom he adored, his sister and a cousin, Leon Riesener, a successful portrait painter. Delacroix himself never married, although it is clear from his journal and the reminiscences of others that he had numerous passionate affairs.

Delacroix writes of his own attitude to women in a revealing paragraph: “I have respect for women; I couldn’t say anything obscene to them. Whatever their depravity, I can’t help blushing if I do violence to that modesty whose externals, at least, they should never lose. I think, my poor shy lad, that this is not the way to get on with the ladies”. [2] At the same time he did not hesitate to take advantage of his models, remarking on October 22, 1822, for example, that “a little baggage named Marie – nineteen years old – came to pose. I took a big chance of a disease with her”. [3] According to his own evidence he pursued a constant series of seemingly indiscriminate encounters in the early 1820’s, with a variety of young women, the names of Sidonie, Fanny, Helene, Emilie, Laure, the wife of a cousin, a maid in the house of an acquaintance, and the mistress of his friend Soulier, all figuring among those with whom he shared his bed in the two years from 1822-24. The fact that the role of artist’s model was coupled with that of sexual companion may intimate something in his choice of sitters for both these pictures and, in our painting, the portrait of Odette is clearly much more specific than that of the other figures. Here the painter reveals his insecurity and introspection in a historical setting that appears to have a direct relationship to his own solitary existence.

[1]The Journal of Eugene Delacroix, trans. Walter Pach, Hacker, 1980, p. 72.

[2]Journal, pp.39-40.

[3]Journal, p.43.

14 by 10 3/4 inches (33.5 by 27.5 cm.)
Oil on canvas

Provenance: Duval-le-Camus, peintre et marchand; His sale, 17-18 April 1827, Maitre Petit, Paris, lot 38 (“Charles VI and Odette sujet tire des amours des Gaules”), sold 110 francs; Frederic Leblond in 1832; Dumas-Descombes in 1885, then his widow or son-in-law, Monsieur Bouriel; Countess Théobald de Vigneral; Private Collection, Paris, 1991.


Literature: Théophile Silvestre, Histoire des Artistes Vivants Français et Étrangers. Études d’après nature. Blanchard, Paris, 1855, p. 80; A. Moreau, Delacroix et son oeuvre, Librairie des Bibliophiles, Paris, 1873, p. 116. no. 17; Alfred Robaut, L’oeuvre complet d’Eugène Delacroix, Charavay Freres, Paris, 1885, no. 137; E. Moreau-Nelaton, Delacroix raconté par lui-meme, Laurens, Paris, 1916, vol. I, p. 141; Un Delacroix reapparait grâce a l’exposition du Louvre, Connaissance des Arts, juillet 1963, no. 137, p. 21 reproduced on the same page; M. Serullaz, A Comment on the Delacroix Exhibition organized in England, Burlington Magazine, 1965, CVII, p. 366; Lee. Johnson, Some Historical sketches by Delacroix, Burlington Magazine, 1973, CXV, p. 672, no. 1; Lee Johnson, The paintings of Eugène Delacroix, University Printing House, Oxford, 1981, volume I, p. 96, reproduced volume II, p. 96, detail p. 85.


Exhibition: Paris, Musée Colbert, Explication des ouvrages de peinture (…)exposés à la galerie du Musée Colbert, le 6 mai 1832, par MM. les artistes, au profit des indigents (…) de Paris, atteints de la maladie épidémique, 1832, no. 144 (pretée par Mo

Historical Period
Romanticism - 1810-1870
Historical events
Price band
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