Like many of his contemporaries, Delacroix took inspiration from the best-selling Romantic poetry of Lord Byron. This painting is the last and most developed of the four canvases that the artist devoted to “The Bride of Abydos,” first published in 1813 and available in French translation by 1821.
Set in the Dardanelles of Turkey, Byron’s poem relates the tragic fate of Zuleika, the daughter of the Pasha Giaffir, and her lover, the pirate Selim. In order to avoid a loveless marriage arranged by her father, Zuleika escapes at night from the harem tower in which she has been held. In the scene shown in Delacroix’s painting the lovers await rescue in a grotto by the sea, pursued by Giaffir and his men, armed and bearing torches. When Selim fires his pistol to summon the aid of his comrades, who are waiting offshore, the shot signals their position to Giaffir. Sensing the approach of her pursuers, Zuleika tries to restrain Selim. In the tragic climax of the tale, Selim is shot dead by Giaffir, and his body washed out to sea. Zuleika dies of grief.
Adult: Selim and Zuleika
Gift to landlord, Hurel, Paris, March 1858 to 1889.
(E. Le Roy et Cie., Paris) to 11 May 1913;
purchased by (Knoedler and Co., Paris);
sold to Mme Soucaret through (Knoedler and Co., Paris), June 1913.
Mme Dhainaut, Paris, to 19 May 1924;
(sale Mme Dhainaut, Paris, 19 May 1924 no. 6);
purchased by Marchal Diehl for Frs. 70,500.
Private collection, Switzerland from 1980;
(Lentes Trading S. A., Zug, Switzerland);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1986.