Friday, April 26, 2013

Arty Farty Friday~ Delacroix ~ Liberty Leading the People

Today, 26 April in 1798 French painter of the Romantic school, Eugène Delacroix was born. One of his best known paintings, now almost iconic having been used on French postage stamps and paper currency is Liberty Leading the People. Romantic style painters focus on emotionality - the full spectrum of human emotion. Look at any of Delacroix's paintings and at the heart of it will be depiction of an emotion - anger, courage, despair, love, fear.......

Liberty Leading the People was painted a few months after the Paris uprising of July 27 - 29 1830, that same uprising described in Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables and its various adaptations to stage and film. The figure of a youth, to the right of Lady Liberty, is said to have been inspiration for the character of Gavroche in Victor Hugo's famous novel.

The 1830 rebellion and political upheaval overthrew reigning monarch, Charles X (brother of the beheaded Louis XVI) who had been planning to reinstate systems of pre-Revolutionary France. After pledging one billion francs to the aristocracy in reparations for property lost during the Revolution, he abolished free press and the legislature, and curtailed suffrage rights.

There's symbolism in the painting - in the detail as well as in the general feel of it. In this uprising the middle class - the bourgeoisie - joined with the working classes to oppose the ruling aristocracy. The two figures on the left of the painting symbolise this, one wearing a top hat, vest and jacket, the other in working gear of a labourer.

The dead man on the left in the painting's foreground is wearing a nightshirt - indicating he had been dragged from his bed by royalist soldiers - a reference to the despised practice of royal troops who spread terror by murdering suspected revolutionary sympathizers in their beds and then dragging the bodies into the streets as a warning. The dead man on the right appears to be a royalist soldier.

Dominating figure is Liberty, the personification of freedom, aka Marianne in France. She rushes forward from a pile of bodies and debris of the barricades, bare-footed and bare-breasted, carrying the Tricolore and a musket. She wears a Phrygian cap, widely recognized symbol of liberty during the original French Revolution.

The painting was first exhibited in 1831 but was not met with plaudits. Critics disliked the way Delacroix had depicted Liberty who, they said looked like a working class woman, a fishwife, or perhaps even a harlot. But this was Liberty actually "on the job" and not the "at ease" version represented by the Statue of Liberty presented by the people of France to the USA in 1886. Naturally enough, in 1831 the potential for such dramatic proletarian power must have seemed highly dangerous, so dangerous in fact that Delacroix's masterpiece was not put on view to the public until 1855. Photo (right) is included to give some idea of the size of the painting.

Delacroix died in 1863, aged 65.

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