Liberty Leading the People
Oil painting on canvas; Size: 260x325cm; Louvre, Paris.
Liberty Leading the People (Liberty on the Barricades) by Delacroix was painted in 1830, just after the insurrection against the Bourbon monarchy in which Delacroix had taken part, although very much in the background, as a member of the National Guard. The painter portrays himself in the figure with the rifle and the stovepipe hat on Liberty's right.
It is his most famous painting, destined for lasting fame. The work, openly political, combines a realism derived from the lesson of Gericault with a symbolic representation, in the personification of Liberty holding the French tricolor. The attempt to create a modern political symbolism, set in the reality of contemporary events, produces an ambivalent result, but one that is certainly innovative with regard to the cultural and aesthetic conventions of the time. Unlike in his earlier works, Delacroix here tries to construct a calmer and more balanced composition and deliberately lowers the tone of his palette, relying on the use of a more marked chiaroscuro, which brings out and gives emphasis to the three figures on which the allegory is centered: Liberty, the figure with the top hat and the urchin brandishing the pistols. The background cloaked in smoke owes something to his familiarity with the work of Constable. The picture was well received at the Salon, and bought by Louis-Philippe for the sum of 3000 francs to be hung in the Luxembourg Palace. In the end, however, it was considered too inflammatory to be exhibited.
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