In 1823, Delacroix began to paint this scene from Chateaubriand’s widely read Romantic novel Atala, which narrates the fate of the Natchez tribe in the wake of the French and Indian War (1754-63). After putting the canvas aside for about a decade, he finally completed the picture for the Paris Salon of 1835. In the catalogue, Delacroix provided this explanatory note: “Fleeing the massacre of their tribe, two young savages traveled up the Mississippi River. During the voyage, the woman was taken by pain of labor. The moment is that when the father holds the newborn in his hands, and both regard him tenderly.” Delacroix had never seen this land or these people, and the painting was created entirely from his imagination.
15 Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.