An interesting Artwatch piece by Gavin Hawker on photography and painting (with much on Delacroix) got me thinking about the great romantic master’s relationship to photography, mainly via the thoughts of the great cultural historian Walter Benjamin.
“The paintings of Delacroix escape the competition with photography, not only because of the impact of their colours, but also (in those days there was no instant photography) because of the stormy agitation of their subject matter. And so a benevolent interest in photography was possible for him.”
Benjamin zeroed in on Delacroix’s use of photographs in relation to portraits.
“One of the – often unspoken- objections to photography: that it is impossible for the human countenance to be apprehended by a machine. This is the sentiment of Delacroix in particular.”
This ambivalent attitude of Delacroix’s photography is clearly present in the drawings that the Artwatch article presents of the nude after photographs. It’s a matter of record that Delacroix used photographs, because despite their shortcomings as models, they showed up inaccuracies of drawing better than original painted artworks could. Delacroix collaborated with the photographer Eugène Durieu on an album of photographs. Delacroix posed the models and Durieu photographed them. After that Delacroix did about 80 drawings after the photographs, some of which are, presumably, shown in the Artwatch article. Interestingly, Delacroix actually compared Durieu’s photographs with engravings after Marcantonio Raimondi based on Raphael, which he found wanting, as recorded in a journal entry of 21st May, 1853. 
Despite his espousal of photography as an aid to drawing, Delacroix clearly had reservations about the medium. His support of the medium is qualified rather than committed. His chief objection to photography was that it was guilty of showing every thing, like a dictionary –see Hanoosh for the links between Delacroix's concept of the dictionary and photography- and it was not composition. As Hanoosh explains it, photography “betrays the conceptual experience of vision”, which is like a “tableau”, “a pictorial selection of reality.” Photography lumped everything together, and it was up to the artist to see what was interesting, to edit down, correct, manage the abundance of details shown in the photograph. Something of this analytic, editing process seems to be happening in a number of these drawings after photographs of the model shown in the Artwatch article.
I love photography, and I have no objection to an exhibition that might lead to people thinking about looking at art. Having said that, I still find it hard to understand how a large, digital print based on an old master- in this case, an Allegory of Wealth by Simon Vouet- can aid understanding about the original’s technique, or the artist’s intentions. If Delacroix came back today, I wonder what he would think of such an exhibition…..
 The Arcades Project (trans and ed) Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, (Harvard, 1999), 678.
 Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (MIT, 1993), 134.
 For a good discussion of Delacroix and photography, see Michele Hanoosh, Painting and the Journal of Eugene Delacroix, (Princeton, 1995), 82-85.
 Painting and the Journal of Eugene Delacroix, (Princeton, 1995), 85.