Eugène Delacroix is one of the most significant painters of the 1800s, and the greatest of the century’s Romantic painters. In early 1832, Delacroix travelled throughout Spain and the French North African colonies of Morocco and Algeria as part of a diplomatic mission. Delacroix described North Africa as a place of sensation and beauty fundamentally unlike Europe – a place, he wrote, ‘made for painters’.
This is one of many paintings that resulted from this journey, and among the finest. This stirring scene – a tumultuous line of violent, turbaned Arabs charging towards some hidden enemy – had as its source a fantasia viewed by Delacroix while in Morocco: a choreographed military spectacle that is unique to Morocco, whose origin was, as its name suggests, more in the imagination than actuality. The painter’s fluid and gestural brushwork, the sharp contours and the rich palette, produce an image of the Orient as dazzling and theatrical, a wild place of dust and violence.