In order to get something worthwhile out of reading Delacroix's Journals, the reader should know something about Delacroix other than that he was a 19th century painter of the first rank. Ingres found Delacroix's work execrable and cast aspersion upon him by saying that: Delacroix was an apostle of ugliness who had come to 'end' painting as the French and the Europeans in general knew it. Today, Delacroix's work occupies a huge chunk of the Louvre's halls -- outstripping Ingre's portion. The fact that Delacroix in fact did fulfill Ingres' curse/prophecy may say something about the nature of death/life and rebirth/resurrection in art.
I read this wonderful book over ten years ago and so powerful was the impact of Delacroix's insights into the nature, perception, creational origin, and fate of art that much of it still remain with me. Delacroix in his day was not revered as he is today. He did not have people knocking down his doors to see his work, nor did he always have it easy trying to show it publicly. One day, after a bad review, to console himself, he wrote that (I paraphase) a great work of art in history is like a plank of wood held under water -- it is kept down when the powers-that-be hold it down. But that power ('political agenda' in contempo art-babble) does not last forever and must sooner or later let go of the plank whose nature is to float to the surface for all the world to see. He seem to have had the same intuition about the nature and fuction of art as the Greeks did: that art is light, that which shines of its own, and by which power that which 'sheds lights' and 'explains' what is around it rather than something that needs to be explained.
He never married but was looked after by a doting housekeeper. Not exactly a recluse, but most certainly a man of breeding descended of a noble stock who was careful about the company he kept, Delacroix spent much time, as artists and thinkers do, with his own thoughts and feelings, and expressing them. He was famous for his cordiality and urbanity, and among his friends in town (Paris) were Chopin, Georges Sand, and other individuals who would leave a mark (or in some cases, a mountain) in the arts one way or another. In other words, Delacroix was an agreeable man and as sociable as any thoughtful man would be but no more. Delacroix's social life is visible in these pages as is the Parisian milieu in which he lived and worked.
But the really great thing about Delacroix's Journals is that one gets to see something about how a great artist sees and feels things. Although he is over a century removed from us, his work and thoughts serve as a reminder that art is not always about anything socially or politically itchy; that art is just art; and that art is not something one needs to get hysterical about or merely a medium to carry an agenda. The fact that, historically, art was always commissioned by the aristocracy, and executed by those who were aristocratic in feeling and sensibility is one that is largely ignored today. Read this and see the significance of this fact, and why the term democratic art is ultimately an ugly oxymoron. Those who would champion the 'demos' sometimes think too highly of art and the need for "the people"'s participation in it.
In my humble opinion, if Delacroix were alive today, I think he would have loved Rauschenberg's and Jean-Michel Basquiat's work and their strong democratic origins but he would detest the democratization of art as such as found in Van Gogh umbrellas and calendars so loved by those who "love" art. He wouldn't go to Mozart Festivals either.
Critic Roger Kimball called Delacroix's Journal "perhaps the greatest literary testament any painter has left." See Roger Kimball, "Delacroix Reconsidered," The New Criterion, Sept. 1998, p. 10.