Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, oil on canvas, 2.6 x 3.25m, 1830 (Musée du Louvre, Paris) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker
Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People
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- [intro: theme music]
- >>DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: We're in the Musée du Louvre
- and we're looking at Delacroix's 'Liberty Leading the People'.
- This is one of the most historically important
- paintings in this collection.
- >>DR. BETH HARRIS: And it's important to remember
- I think, how radical this painting was.
- It's republican revolutionary politics were palpable.
- A little bit, perhaps, lost to us, I think, today.
- The painting shows the revolution of 1830
- on the streets of Paris.
- And what we see is a barricade,
- which was a makeshift blockade.
- >>ZUCKER: And remember that Paris at this time
- was really a medieval city.
- And so the streets were narrow,
- and they were winding,
- and it was easy to block off French troops.
- And they were made of furniture.
- They were made of wagons.
- They were made especially of cobblestones.
- And you can see the cobblestones
- down in the very foreground.
- >>HARRIS: Over those cobblestones
- strides a figure who one would not have
- actually seen on the streets of Paris.
- So we know this mixture of the real and the unreal,
- because we have this allegorical figure of Liberty herself,
- carrying the French tricolor flag which represents
- equality, fraternity, and liberty—
- the values of the revolution.
- >>ZUCKER: So in the United States,
- we would recognize this figure as the Statue of Liberty,
- not a specific individual, but in fact
- the embodiment or personification of an idea,
- the idea of freedom.
- >>HARRIS: So it's important to remember here
- that what's happened is a monarchy
- had been restored in France that was
- very politically oppressive.
- And the revolution in July of 1830 was against
- that restored King Charles the Tenth
- and brought into power a constitutional monarchy.
- Presumably, a king that would be more friendly
- to the needs of the middle class.
- >>ZUCKER: So there were three days of...
- beyond protest, of open warfare
- in the streets of Paris.
- Charles the Tenth actually flees France.
- And his cousin Louis Philippe is put on the throne.
- And Delacroix is watching this from his window.
- >>HARRIS: And the violence is really frightening.
- We have in the foreground dead members
- of both sides of this fight.
- >>ZUCKER: The figure on the left is really brutal.
- If you look closely, it's clear that he's in his night shirt.
- And one of the practices of the repressive
- government was to go after the opposition
- in their homes, beat them to death,
- and drag them into the streets as a reminder: "Do not do this."
- There's a very famous Daumier: 'Rue Transnonain'
- that shows a family that has been killed
- in their bedroom.
- >>HARRIS: And on the right,
- a member of the other side of the king's forces.
- Who's dead or wounded in the foreground.
- >>ZUCKER: And that's important because
- I think that's a reminder that
- even the royal troops are not invincible.
- >>HARRIS: Liberty strides forward.
- She's incredibly powerful.
- And importantly, Delacroix is giving her
- kind of realism.
- That was very important, I think, in terms
- of this message.
- I think if the figure had been
- an ancient Greek looking figure,
- we would have lost some of the strength of this image.
- We see her in profile, starkly lit,
- with a kind of Caravaggio-esque lighting.
- Her arm forward with the flag, her other arm carrying
- the bayonet, striding over the barricade.
- A figure that leads the people on with this idea of liberty.
- >>ZUCKER: So, I see exactly what you're saying.
- But I also disagree.
- Because I think that Delacroix isn't viewing
- this figure with all of those very human attributes
- that we're talking about.
- All of that sense of leadership and all of the
- allegorical power that she represents.
- But at the same time, I think Delacroix
- is actually very consciously drawing on the ancient tradition.
- The perfect profile, which is the most noble way
- of representing the face according to the classical world
- remind us of Roman coinage, for instance.
- >>HARRIS: So it's not as if Delacroix looked out
- of his window and actually saw this.
- And that's not just because of
- the allegorical figure of Liberty.
- The figures are carefully composed in the shape of a pyramid.
- And Delacroix has also included very different
- types of figures intentionally.
- Showing the range of people who participated
- in the revolution of 1830.
- >>ZUCKER: So not only do you have the man wearing the top hat,
- a member of the bourgeoisie, of the middle class,
- but next to him is a craftsmen—a workman—
- in his shirt sleeves,
- who probably can't afford that nice rifle.
- But they are together opposing the monarchy.
- >>HARRIS: And so there was a real
- political message here of the power of the people
- to overthrow a government.
- And the government of Louis Philippe that came
- into power purchased this painting,
- but later this message started to feel
- a little bit uncomfortable.
- >>ZUCKER: A little too radical.
- >>HARRIS: A little too radical. In fact, the government of Louis Philippe,
- although a constitutional monarchy, still only a very small fraction
- of the French people were able to vote.
- We're talking about a government that was still
- favorable only to the interests of real elite.
- And so the power of the people that we see here in this painting
- became dangerous, and the painting was taken down
- and not exhibited again until the revolution of 1848.
- >>ZUCKER: We'll look, for instance, at the extreme right side of the canvas
- and you can make out the two towers of Notre Dame
- rising above the smoke of battle.
- And if you look very closely you can see the tricolor
- on that symbol of the monarchy.
- And so this was such a radical image.
- >>HARRIS: Liberty is moving directly into our space
- leading the people forward.
- You can see why this painting ended up going
- essentially into storage.
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