"It is beautiful, even more beautiful, I believe, than the painting. I am enraptured, dear friend," wrote novelist George Sand to Eugène Delacroix in gratitude for his gift of this pastel. It was the last pastel Delacroix ever made and his last present to Sand.
Delacroix had first captured this subject–Chiron, the wisest of all centaurs, training Achilles in the art of hunting–on a corner of a curved ceiling devoted to poetry in Paris's Palais Bourbon Library, which he decorated from 1838 to 1847. On visits to Delacroix's studio twenty years later, Sand admired the new, rectangular painting of the subject the artist was working on. That canvas was promised to another admirer, so Delacroix made this nearly identical pastel for her and wrote to Sand's son, Maurice, informing him of the gift.
Highly educated in the classics, Delacroix depicted subjects from antiquity throughout his life. Like his compatriot Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Delacroix used ancient marble sculptures as his source but to entirely different effect. Ingres's figures retained the cool purity of stone, while Delacroix used movement and color to animate and integrate nude, horse, and landscape.