One of my favourite paintings from the Louvre Museum in Paris was La Liberté guidant le peuple (Liberty leading the people) by Eugène Delacroix. The painting commemorates the July Revolution of 1830. Delacroix painted it in the autumn of 1830 and it was first exhibited at the official Salon of May 1831. The painting was admitted into the Louvre collection in 1874. Liberty is depicted here as the figure of Marianne, who is the national symbol of the France and analogous with Liberty and Reason. The colours of the tricolour flag are picked up throughout the painting, for example in the blue sock and red blood of the corpse in the foreground; on the shirt and sash of the man kneeling before Liberty and on a miniature flag flying from the top of Notre Dame in the background. Another interesting aspect of the picture is that the revolutionary fighters are from a mix of social classes – from the upper classes, bourgeoise and peasants. So to say that Liberty unites the people across social classes.
This painting is often seen as Delacroix’s contribution to the French Revolution. On October 12, 1830 Delacroix wrote to his brother Charles, “I have undertaken a modern subject, a barricade, and if I have not fought for my country, at least I will paint for her.” Liberty Leading The People is probably Delacroix most famous painting, but it is also a radical painting with a strong political message.
I love the movement, intensity, and power of the painting. It is incredibly engaging when it is right infront of you.
After I started researching the picture, I realized that I had seen it before. The painting is also used on the artwork for the Coldplay album Viva la vida, on the cover of The Economist and many other forms of pop culture. The painting also seems to have been the inspiration for The Statue of Liberty. Furthermore, the figure of the young boy in the painting is likely to have been an inspiration for the character of Gavroche in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.
Liberty Leading The People continues to inspire and resonate with people almost two centuries after it was first painted.