Macbeth and the Witches
Eugène Delacroix ( French, 1798 - 1863 )
The first of Eugène Delacroix’s works based on the plays of William Shakespeare, Macbeth and the Witches, from the play Macbeth, originally published in 1606, is one of the artist’s most innovative prints. Using a scraper, Delacroix created very fine lines that give the illusion of smoke emanating from the cinders and bubbling cauldron. Light from the crackling fire illuminates the figure of Macbeth while the witches seem to fade into the smoky background. The caption, which identifies the subject from act 4, scene 1 with the famous lines “toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble,” heightens the scene’s dramatic impact. Published in the weekly Paris arts journal L’Artiste, Delacroix’s print belonged to the widespread revival of Shakespeare in French journals, periodicals, magazines, and books in the 1800s, which was made possible by the new printing medium of lithography.
Nicole Myers, DMA label copy, 2018.
The popularity of fictional tales featuring otherworldly beings and "dark arts" influenced the subject choices of Delacroix and other Romantic artists. Two years after making Macbeth and the Witches, Delacroix created another witch-related illustration for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust which shows the main characters ascending the Harz Mountains to witness an annual gathering of witches.
The technique used to create the intensely dark, smoky atmosphere of this print is known as contre-partie. Rather than an artist drawing onto a lithographic stone with a material to bond with ink and be printed, this method requires the application of black ink over the stone's full surface and the removal of "lighter" areas with a scraper to create the illusion of depth.