Eugène Delacroix Illustrates Goethe’s Faust, “One of the Very Greatest of All Illustrated Books”


Did our post last month on Édouard Manet’s illus­tra­tions of Stephane Mal­lar­mé’s trans­la­tion of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven get you excit­ed enough to track down Dover Pub­li­ca­tions’ col­lec­tion of those haunt­ing images? If so, you’ll notice that the book also con­tains Eugène Delacroix’s illus­tra­tions of Johann Wolf­gang von Goethe’s Faust, a bold set of art­works that earned high praise, at least from Goethe him­self: “Delacroix,” said the writer upon view­ing the lith­o­graphs made for the tex­t’s 1828 edi­tion, “has sur­passed my own vision.” You can see/read a com­plete ver­sion online here.

faust princeton

Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Library’s Julie L. Mell­by uses that line to open a post on Delacroix’s Faust, “con­sid­ered by most his­to­ri­ans to be one of the finest pub­li­ca­tions of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. Gor­don Ray calls Delacroix’s illus­tra­tions ‘the high point of Roman­tic book illus­tra­tion,’ and David Bland called the vol­ume ‘one of the very great­est of all illus­trat­ed books.’ ” On that Prince­ton page you’ll find images scanned straight from Prince­ton’s copy of the book, and here we offer a select few to get you start­ed appre­ci­at­ing how Delacroix inter­pret­ed Goethe’s oft-told tale of divine wagers, pacts with the dev­il, and the temp­ta­tions of infi­nite knowl­edge.


“Every time I look at the engrav­ings of Faust I am seized with a long­ing to use an entire­ly new style of paint­ing that would con­sist, so to speak, in mak­ing a lit­er­al trac­ing of nature.” Delacroix wrote that in his jour­nal before tak­ing on the project of illus­trat­ing Faust him­self.


Maria Popo­va at Brain­Pick­ings quotes it in her own post on the work that result­ed in “a mes­mer­iz­ing dia­logue across dis­ci­plines between these two genius­es, half a cen­tu­ry apart in age.” (You can see more images on her site.) Whether or not Goethe knew he had writ­ten a work that would still res­onate with human­i­ty cen­turies lat­er, he did seem to under­stand that no one who saw Delacroix’s visions of it would ever for­get them.


H/T Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty / Brain­Pick­ings

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Goethe’s The­o­ry of Col­ors: The 1810 Trea­tise That Inspired Kandin­sky & Ear­ly Abstract Paint­ing

Watch Goethe’s Haunt­ing Poem, “Der Erlkönig,” Pre­sent­ed in an Art­ful Sand Ani­ma­tion

Édouard Manet Illus­trates Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, in a French Edi­tion Trans­lat­ed by Stephane Mal­lar­mé (1875)

Baude­laire, Balzac, Dumas, Delacroix & Hugo Get a Lit­tle Baked at Their Hash Club (1844–1849)

The Death Masks of Great Authors: Dante, Goethe, Tol­stoy, Joyce & More

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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