The Musée Delacroix situated in the artist's former home and studio in a small square on the Left Bank, purchased his portrait of the writer George Sand when it came up for sale at auctioneers Osenat in Fontainebleau on April 17.
The Museum exercised its right of pre-emption whereby French institutions can step in to claim for themselves a lot sold at auction as soon as the fall of the hammer determines the price. In this instance that sum was €150,000 (£125,000), more than double the pre-sale estimate after numerous bidders had shown interest in the lot.
The small, 10 x 8in (26 x 21cm) oil on panel shows the writer famously dressed as a man. At this point Sand had just started to write for the Revue des Deux Mondes and its editor-in-chief François Buloz had commissioned the painting from Delacroix with a view to it being reproduced as an engraving so that Revue readers could see what Sand looked like.
The commission and its execution in November 1834, is well documented by Sand herself who was distraught at this point having just ended her relationship with Alfred de Musset. In a dramatic gesture of remorse she had just cut off her abundant long tresses and sent them to du Musset and Delacroix's portrait, painted in sombre almost camaieu tones, shows her with shorn hair.
In her diary entry for November 29 1834 Sand writes: “This morning I posed for Lacroix (sic) I chatted with him and smoked some of the delicious straw cigarettes he gave me...This morning I spoke to Delacroix about my pain. What else can I talk about? He gave me some good advice: not to bother about courage. 'Let yourself go!' he said...”
Later that day she also wrote to Saint-Beuve: “Come and see me today or tomorrow at four. I have a session with Delacroix for the Revue portrait and I don’t want to stay in all evening.”
In addition to the well-documented circumstances of its execution, the portrait also had the advantage of a complete provenance and market freshness. Sold at the auction of Buloz' estate at Drouot in 1878, it was bought by his son for 8000 Francs and then passed down by marriage and descent through the family until offered for sale in Fontainebleau.
Delacroix is currently the subject of a major exhibition at the National Gallery in London which runs until May 22.