Begun in 1821 in an effort to throw off nearly four centuries of Ottoman
rule, the Greek War of Independence captured the imagination of western Europe.
With its reports of heroic deeds and bloody massacres, the topic was a natural
for both poets and painters, among them the Romantic poet Lord Byron and the
Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863). Many years later, as
Delacroix approached the end of his life, he recorded one of the decisive
battles of the early years of the war in Botzaris Surprises
the Turkish Camp and Falls Fatally Wounded (cover ).
This relatively small, quickly executed work was the preparatory oil sketch
for a larger-than-life painting that had been commissioned by a Greek patrician
living in France. Although Delacroix did complete some fragments of the commissioned
work, he died before he got very far into it. Meanwhile, the oil sketch is
testament to what he had planned. Indeed, with its vivid masses of swirling
color and intense action, it conveys—perhaps even more directly than
a well-finished six-foot canvas could have done—the heat and emotion
of battle and its swiftly changing fortunes. Further, in this fluid, unfinished
form we have the privilege of being able to watch someone work—of almost
seeing the thoughts as they take shape in the artist's mind and are translated,
quickly, to the hand and thence to the canvas in their initial, seminal, and
Southgate MT. Botzaris Surprises the Turkish Camp and Falls Fatally Wounded. JAMA. 2001;285(4):375. doi:10.1001/jama.285.4.375
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