The MFA Houston Just Bought a Long-Lost Delacroix Painting That Popped Up in a Paris Apartment

Th Romantic painter made three versions of his the famed scene.

Eugène Delacroix, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment (1833–34). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

A masterpiece by 19th-century French painter Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863), thought to be lost for close to 170 years, has joined the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Titled Women of Algiers in Their Apartment (1833–34), it was purchased for an undisclosed sum from Paris gallerist Philippe Mendes.

The painting is the first version of the artist’s famed composition Femmes d’Alger (1834), now in the collection of the Louvre in Paris and a highlight of the historic Delacroix retrospective co-organized by the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018.

“After months of speculation about the destination of this truly extraordinary painting, I am very pleased to say that Delacroix’s first, long-lost Femmes d’Alger will have a public and permanent home here in Houston,” said Gary Tinterow, the MFA’s director, in a statement. “Women of Algiers in Their Apartment is a landmark addition to our collections.”

The work will go on view at the museum on October 3.

Eugène Delacroix, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment (1847). Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Eugène Delacroix, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment (1847). Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Louvre and MFA paintings were made by the artist during a French diplomatic mission to North Africa after the French invasion of 1830. The leader of the mission, Count Charles-Edgar de Mornay, purchased the first version of the work and sold it at auction 20 years later. After the 1850 sale, the painting passed out of sight.

As it turned out, the picture was hiding in plain site in the Paris apartment of an art collector who suspected the work was by Delacroix, and called in Mendes to authenticate it in 2018. Delacroix expert Virginie Cauchi-Fatiga authenticated it as a signature Delacroix after extensive research and radiographic study.

Delacroix’s six-month journey included a four-day stop in Algiers, Morocco, where a port authority official invited him into his home, offering a rare glimpse of the private lives of women and their maidservants. During his short stay, Delacroix dashed off numerous sketches and watercolors, capturing the details of the architectural interiors and the clothing worn by these women.

Pablo Picasso Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) (1955). Courtesy of Christie's New York.

Pablo Picasso Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O) , 1955. Courtesy of Christie’s New York.

The artist was the first painter to show scenes of North Africa in the Parisian salon. “This makes a fine Orientalist painting by Delacroix, a holy grail for collectors of his work,” Tinterow told the New York Times.

Upon his return to Paris, Delacroix painted the two versions of the work, and a third, now in the collection of the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France, was finished in 1849.

The second and third paintings were both hugely influential on artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Pablo Picasso also made more than a dozen paintings, drawings, and prints titled after Delacroix in 1954 and ’55.

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