The Convulsionists is a fantastic painting by Delacroix and it’s probably the most important picture by him in North America. We believe from what the Count de Mornay tells us much later that he and Delacroix had to view this procession of Sufi, this is a sect of Sufism called the Aissawaand every year the Sufi would parade themselves through the streets of Tangier on the way to the shrine of the founder of their sect. And in the process of doing that they did what certain Sufi sects quite often do, they get into a trance state and that’s what they are doing in this picture. And Delacroix is trying to capture some of that movement and excitement and energy and violence.
According to the Comte de Mornay they had to witness this from an attic because they were afraid if they were seen they would be torn to pieces. Not so much by the Sufi but by everyone else. It was a very dangerous place to be for Europeans. It certainly captures in this picture some of that dynamic. It’s a brilliance of the blue sky, it’s the brilliance of the light hitting white washing these walls and reflecting off of those surfaces. And then of course just the brilliant color, the natural brilliant color of the costumes, of the people in this part of the world. These are all things that lead him to start seeing color in a different way.
What he is trying to do is express the color that he is seeing when he was there. It was shocking to people to see this kind of clarity. Many artists felt that they had to go south specifically to try to experience the color that Delacroix did in North Africa.
Van Gogh goes to the south of France, Monet does the same thing and then you have next door to us in this picture you have Renoir.
Delacroix was the first French artist to go to North Africa, press the Green button to find out how he got there.