Regarded as one of the most influential French painters of his time, Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) had a great influence on the Romantic Movement, as well as the following Impressionist and Post-impressionist movements. Like his contemporaries, his work grew out of a reaction towards the preceding Neoclassical movement and the Enlightenment values of reason. Romantic art emphasized emotion, creativity, imagination, and man’s part it nature, which would come together to make a statement and express the artist’s unique point of view. (Collins, 2016). With his use of color, intense brushstrokes, and ability to portray people’s pain and suffering, Delacroix became a master at portraying historical and contemporary events (including those from literature). The July Revolution of 1830, in which the Bourbon King was overthrown and replaced by King Louis Philippe, inspired one of Delacroix’s most famous pieces, “Liberty Leading the People.” This paper will provide an analysis of the painting, how it relates to the Romantic Movement, and my personal reaction to it. The paper will conclude with a brief description of other Romantic artists and how their art related to Delacroix’s.
The painting is a magnificent representation of Delacroix’s ability to use emotion and allegory to portray a significant even in history. The focal point of the painting is a partially nude female personification of Lady Liberty (representing the conquest of the French people), who is holding a French Revolutionary flag in her right hand and a musket in her left. Battered corpses of fallen soldiers dominate the lower part of the painting, while ordinary Parisians (e.g., students, office workers, street urchins) surround lady liberty on all sides, taking up the middle portion of the canvas. Many are holding guns and muskets, and waving them in the air, as they celebrate their victory. The background consists of Lady Liberty’s upper torso (along with her hand and the French flag) and a sky filled with thick smoke. Delacroix employs a unique composition style, where everyone is arranged in a pyramidal structure, with Lady Liberty towering over the top and the dead soldiers on the ground, forming the base. The scene is very busy and hectic, so this simple structure helps the painting achieve some balance and unity.
The red, white, and blue color palette may seem simple at first glance; however, the way Delacroix used it throughout the painting, creates a strong statements and a unified composition. When looking at the painting, they eye is immediately drawn to the bright red, white and blue flag in Lady Liberty’s hand. This same color scheme is then echoed on the clothing of the Parisians around her (e.g., a man on the left and boy on the right both have bright white sashes around them, a woman kneeling on the ground to her left is wearing a blue jacket and a red sash around her waist, a fallen soldiers is depicted with a blue sock hanging off of his foot). Other than the bright blue sky and white smoke, the rest of the painting is quite dark, helping these patches of color stand out. Delacroix also uses light throughout the piece (potentially mimicking chiaroscuro of his predecessors), illuminating Lady Liberty’s dress, the shirt of a fallen soldier, and the smoke directly behind her. This contrast between light and dark also creates a more dramatic and three-dimensional effect. Also, Delacroix’s use of bold and vivid brush strokes helped create the emotional impact of the piece.
This painting for me evokes feelings of power, strength, freedom, and victory (for the people and by the people). With Lady Liberty towering over everyone and a following of people from all walks of life (e.g., bourgeois and common people), the painting represents the change and triumph that can be achieved through revolution. Despite the celebration, Delacroix also does a great job at reminding us that such victory was achieved through the loss of many lives, as depicted by the fallen soldiers in the foreground. They have not been completely forgotten, because Delacroix uses bright highlights on various pieces of their clothing in order to bring subtle attention to them. Despite the carnage, the painting makes me feel hopeful and relieved that through unity and revolution, positive change and freedom are possible.
The attributes that tie this work to the Romantic era are the use of bold brush strokes and color, emphasis on emotion, depiction of historical event to portray artist’s point of view, use of emotion to make political statement, and use of nature (i.e., human nature, in this case) to convey strength and power (Collins, 2016). Other artists that did work in this similar style were Theodore Gericault (“The Raft of the Medusa”), Casper David Friedrich (“Two Men Contemplating the Moon”), and Francisco Goya (“The Second of May, 1808”). Like Delacroix, they painted scenes from historical or literary events, focusing on emotion and human intuition, nature, and portraying the objective world through their subjective lens.
- Collins, Neil (ed.). Romanticism in Art. Visual-arts-Cork.com, 2016. http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/history-of-art/romanticism.htm. Accessed 16 November, 2016.