Patrick Caulfield

Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi (after Delacroix)


Not on display

Patrick Caulfield 1936–2005
Oil paint on board
Support: 1524 × 1219 mm
frame: 1647 × 1334 × 97 mm
Purchased 1980

Display caption

In his final year at the Royal College of Art, Caulfield was set the task of making a transcription from a famous painting. He chose Delacroix’s Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi 1827 [reproduced to the left], a work he knew only from a black-and-white reproduction.

Caulfield translated the painting in a hard-edge style, inventing the colours to suggest the propagandist tone of a political poster.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed on back ‘P. Caulfield/'63’
Household high gloss paint on board, 60 × 48 (152.5 × 122)
Purchased from the Waddington Galleries (Grant-in-Aid) 1980
Prov: Purchased by Alan Power shortly after the work was painted
Exh: Patrick Caulfield: Paintings 1963–81, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, August–October 1981; Tate Gallery, October 1981–January 1982 (3, colour)
Lit: Christopher Finch, Patrick Caulfield, Harmondsworth 1971, pp.27 and 59, repr.p.27 in reverse; Marco Livingstone in catalogue of 1981 Walker Art Gallery/Tate Gallery exhibition, pp.16–17

'Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi, after Delacroix’ was a transcription made by Patrick Caulfield as part of his last-year course at the Royal College of Art. He had never seen the original painting in the Louvre and based his transcription on a black and white reproduction in Jacques Lassaigne's Eugène Delacroix (London, Longmans Green and Co. 1950) which he had received as a school prize for ‘proficiency in art’ in November 1952.

In a letter to Christopher Finch of June 1969 (quoted by Finch, op.cit.), Caulfield wrote: ‘My idea was to do a transcription which was very close to the original only emphasizing the “propaganda poster” quality of it. Partly hoping to achieve this by substituting for the dark, amorphous background a flat gloss colour. This method of transcription was opposite (or different) from the usual method which was to pick out the geometrical patterns and rhythm (real or imagined) that seemed to make-up the structure of the painting so that the end result was an “abstracted version” of the original - a version which diluted the essential content and overemphasized what was a subsidiary element of the work.’

In an interview with Marco Livingstone (Livingstone, op.cit., pp.16–17), he added: ‘I thought that Delacroix was probably one of the last artists that anybody would choose to deal with. He would paint Arabs fighting lions, which he could never have seen, even though he had been to Morocco. They were the most unlikely pictures ... It was different from the way that people treated the transcription. The fashion then was to turn up with a painting which had grasped the compositional lines of the painting to be transcribed, therefore, abstracting the elements of that painting but totally, of course, losing the painting en route. My idea was to just copy the painting but to make it even more positive than it was, to emphasise the image, not the compositional link-ups which are totally notional anyway. So I decided that where Delacroix had dark browns with things vaguely going on, I would make them black just to get rid of all that dubious sort of stuff which is merely to do with putting the figure in a space and making the figure stronger.’

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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