Mazeppa Bound to the Hindquarters of a Wild Horse
We know that the legend of Mazeppa, popularised by Byron throughout Romantic Europe when his poem was published in 1819, fascinated Delacroix, and his Journal shows that he often thought about illustrating the adventure of this young Polish page who was bound naked to a wild horse as a punishment for committing adultery with the wife of a Palatinate Count. However, in the whole of his oeuvre, we can only find one small painting (Cairo) and one watercolour (Helsinki) on this subject. We can also link these, through the theme, to his drawing in the Louvre, Cheval renversant son cavalier [Horse unseating its Rider] (Roger-Marx Collection), as well as to two other drawings on this subject, also in the Musée du Louvre.
The study in the Magnin collection probably illustrates a moment in the poem expressing the Romantic theme of man’s struggle between his innermost aspirations and the injustice of fate, and thus allows the artist to create one of the lively compositions that he so liked. It depicts the moment when Mazeppa is tied to the wild horse. The dense hatching in this beautiful graphite drawing brings the image into strong relief recalling some of the studies for La Mort de Sardanapale [The Death of Sardanopolius] and for Les Massacres de Scio [The Massacre at Chios], enabling the work to be dated to 1825-1830.