A pupil of Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1774-1833), he was deeply influenced by Rubens and the sixteenth-century Venetian masters whose paintings he copied in the Louvre. He was also interested in the works of Dante, Goethe and Tasso and in English art and literature, particularly in the 1820s.
In 1825 he visited London, accompanied by Bonington. His early Salon pictures, notably The Massacres at Chios (1824) and The Death of Sardanapalus (1827; both Paris, Louvre), established him as the leader of the Romantic painters, and the word 'Romantic' has justifiably been associated with his name ever since, though Delacroix himself acknowledged the necessity of balance and order, qualities associated with classical art. A journey to North Africa and Spain in 1832 made a profound impression on him. He received many official commissions, including murals for the Palais Bourbon, the Louvre, the Palais du Luxembourg and the church of Saint-Sulpice, Paris.
His Journal is one of the most important contributions to the literature of art written by a painter.