Texas art museum showcases French great's lost masterpiece

Texas art museum showcases French great's lost masterpiece

Eugène Delacroix, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, 1833–34
Eugène Delacroix's Women of Algiers in Their Apartment will go on view in Houston on October 3. Museum of Fine Arts Courtesy Photo

A lost painting by one of the greats of the 18th century, French romantic period, Eugène Delacroix, has not only been found, but will soon have a new Texas home at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. This masterwork, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment (1833-34) is an early version of Delacroix’s monumental Femmes d’Alger (1834), now part of the Louvre’s collection.

The last known whereabouts of the painting, which sold in 1850, and the story of what happened to the Women of Algiers remained a mystery for more than 150 years. Only in 2018 did the painting reappear when a Paris collector asked Paris gallerist Philippe Mendes to authenticate. The painting was indeed then authenticated by Delacroix expert Virginie Cauchi-Fatiga and then exhibited for the first time this summer at Galerie Philippe Mendes, Paris.

“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,” explained MFAH director Gary Tinterow, in a statement. “Women of Algiers in Their Apartment is a landmark addition to our collections.”

When Delacroix was 32 he joined a diplomatic mission to Algiers led by by the Comte de Mornay after France invaded North Africa in 1830. Invited into the homes of Moroccan Jewish and Muslim families, he sketched and painted scenes of everyday life seldom seen by his fellow French citizens. Comte de Mornay, who led the mission, would purchase Women of Algiers in Their Apartment from Delacroix but then sell it in 1850, when it disappeared from art record, until now.

The painting depicts the private sanctuary of the women and their maidservants who lived in the home of an Algerian official and reveals an intriguing story to be interpreted by the viewer. Both the Louvre painting and a third version of the scene now part of the the collection of the Musée Fabre in Montpellier influenced Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Picasso.

The MFAH has no intention of keeping this phenomenal acquisition private for long, so Women of Algiers in Their Apartment will go on view to the world at the museum on October 3.