Tiger with a Tortoise Eugene Delacroix Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Tiger with a Tortoise was a part of the Peggy and David Rockefeller collection for a number of years before recently being sold at a Christies auction in 2018.

This simple piece is a charming representation of two very different creatures - a tiger and a tortoise. Eugene Delacroix had used tigers within a large number of paintings already by the time of this work, but never tortoises before. Naturally, the former dominates the composition, with its size and brightly coloured features. Behind these two figures is a group of trees, and then a set of rolling hills across the background behind. The trademark blue skies are also present. The piece achieved an impressive $9,875,000 at the 2018 auction, which was towards the upper end of its original valuation. It was originally painted in 1862, at which point the artist had peaked in terms of experience and technical expertise.

The composition is considered particularly bold, because of how the central figure is aggressively placed right at the front of the scene. It is confident, underlining how the artist had worked hard over the years to perfect his technical ability and was now at the height of his powers. His depictions of animals can be seen within artworks inspired by literature and also from genuinely historical events. Delacroix studied these creatures in order to achieve an accuracy that few could match, even managing to do so across a wide range of different creatures during his career. He is known to have visited Paris's Jardin des Plantes zoo and sat there for hours, closely studying the build and behaviour of these beautiful creatures in order to better understand as much as he could about them. It would clearly be too dangerous to get any closer than sitting on the outside of their caged environment.

Animal portraiture is a very specialised genre that requires considerable research and practice in order to be mastered. The finest exponent was probably George Stubbs, a British painter who would actually make use of corpses in order to better understand the muscular makeup of horses, with them being the main focus in his career. It is rare to go to such lengths, and some would not have easy access to these opportunities, but no one can deny the level of accuracy that he was able to achieve in classic paintings such as Whistlejacket, A Lion Attacking a Horse and A Horse Frightened by a Lion. There were then a number of simpler, contemporary versions within the 20th century, such as simple sketches in a single pencil stroke by Picasso and other highly skilled modern artists.

"...We were exceptionally pleased to get it. It has enormous, lasting qualities and makes one recognise what an outstanding painter Delacroix was..."

David Rockefeller, after 1966 purchase