Liberty Leading the People presents a scene of July Revolution of 1830 in Paris from Eugene Delacroix’s view. It outlines the time, place and characters in the uprising. We can read Delacroix’s attitude towards the revolution and Parisian society through the painting. Eugene Delacroix is a distinguishable figure in French painting. He was strongly influenced by the Neo-classical style from Jacques-Louis David in his early painting education. When he was attracted by the style of Peter Paul Rubens, a Flemish Baroque painter, he started to paint in rich colour.
Following another French painter, Theodore Gericault, who was marked a pioneer painter of Romantic painting, Delacroix finally found his way in painting. Just as Johnson said in his book “Delacroix’s only major painting on a subject from contemporary French history, the Liberty also owes more to Gericault than do any of his large Salon paintings since the Barque de Dante of 1822 (J100). ” Liberty Leading the People depicted a scene of 1830 July Revolution in Paris. The scene in Delacroix’s work was believed to happen on the morning of 28th July, 1830 .
The bridge to the Hotel de Ville was undertaken by insurgents . This process was considered as a significant signal towards the success of taking down the Hotel de Ville. Delacroix successfully captured the “surging physical energy and jangling, nervous excitement” of Paris. Similar to the transition from Neo-classical style to Romantic painting of Delacroix, the French society, especially in city of Paris, in near a whole century, from late 1700s to late 1800s, was also in the process of transition.
However, this transition of the French regime was in great absolute instability, which moved back and forth among monarchy, constitutional monarchy and republic. “Rapid social and economic changes combined with crowed urban conditions that gave a tactical advantage to insurgents” said Jonathan M. House in his book. He explained why the city of Paris was able to support her people to fight against the governor of the time. And the whole environment definitely influenced on Delacroix’s understanding of revolutionary movements and their causes.
The insurrection coming on Tuesday 27th July seemed to be reasonable and natural. After the French First Republic failed, Napoleon Bonaparte went up to the stage and changed the governing system to monarchy in 1804. Later in 1815, it came to the time of Bourbon Restoration, in which Napoleon returned and reclaimed to be the ruler of France for a hundred days. Bourbon kings set up constitutional monarchy. Even though Chamber of Peers and an elected Chamber of Deputies were ensured by the Charter of 1814 legally, Louis XVIII and later rulers still kept the superior governing power.
During Bourbon Restoration, it was not pure constitutional monarchy, as the power of the royal was greater the law. The governing system was going through the process from monarchy to constitutional monarchy with rises and falls. When it came to the last Bourbon king, Charles X, in late 1820s, behind the smoke and fury, the city of Paris and her people could no long bear the ruling class. The pressure of rising prices, declining wages and increasing unemployment kept eroding the residents in Paris.
After the release of the notorious Four Ordinances, which was signed on 25th July 1830 and published a day later, the middle class was heavily affected and pushed to suffer the high prices, lower wages, worse housing with the worker class. In the meantime, the population rose, which made the living in Paris even harder. All these turned the city to be more and more restless, which called for an insurrection. July Revolution of 1830 in Paris lasted for only three days. The upheaval was later marked as ‘Trois Glorieuses’.
However, the ‘Trois Glorieuses’ was ended up with the frustration and failed to build up the Second Republic. The King of the French, Louis-Philippe acceded to the throne. The ‘Monarchie de Juillet’ came to the stage. ‘Trois Glorieuses’ and those unstable regime changes happened from 1804 to 1830 contributed to Delacroix’s attitude towards monarchy, constitutional monarchy and the revolution itself, which was presented in his work, Liberty Leading People, later in the same year of July Revolution. The Notre Dame locates at the right margin of the painting.
From Delacroix’s view, the battle happened at its back of the right side. It highlights the location of the battle, marking it clearly, the city of Paris. However, in the reality, according to Johnson, “the position of the tower of Notre Dame in Delacroix’s painting cannot be said literally to localize the action at a precise point in the capital. ” This implies that the scene in the painting is Delacroix’s imagination. Besides the Notre Dame, another very important part served as an element in the background is the crowd.
They hide at the back of the left side in shade. Delacroix made the most of the crowd deep and dark in an unclear atmosphere. But there are three outstanding figures in the front. These three figures represent three main groups of citizens that fought in the revolution, workers, middle-class and ex-soldiers . During the three days, angry Parisians, including worker-class and middle-class people, were led by former soldiers, who had ever served in royal force. Delacroix highlighted them in front of the crowd. The front one is a man with a sword.
From his dressing, open shirt and hatless, it acknowledges his social class, a worker. From his aggressive facial impression and the sharp sword in his hand, it gives out a direct and clear message, indicating his determination of the revolution and the hope for changes. The one following on the right is a man with a top hat, which gives a signal on his middle-class image. The third one on the left of the worker may be a soldier, as he wears a cap. From his posture, turning his face to his right, he seems to be giving out orders on the crowd.
In front of the noisy crowd are four standing figures. From the left to the right, they are a man with a sword, a well-dressed man with a gun, the Liberty, and a young man with two guns in hands. They highlight the most active social groups in the revolution. The man wearing an open shirt and a cap, with a sword in hand and a gun in his pocket is the representative of Parisian worker class. He is ready for fighting in posture, staring at the Liberty. From his face, we can see his anger and determination. His facial impression is like saying ‘I am your loyal follower.
Let me fight for you’ to the Liberty. The well-dressed man next to the worker is the representative from middle class. Wearing a top hat and holding a gun firmly in his hands, his posture tells his determination to fight in the revolution. He is also staring at the Liberty, admiring her as the leader. These two social classes suffered the most. Therefore, they both had great determination to seek for changes. The young man on the left of the Liberty, may be a student of Ecole Polytechnique . He holds his right hand with a gun high and has another gun in his left hand.
It shows that he is ready to fight. However, in his facial impression, it does not show much determination or meanings, but craziness and confusion. Maybe that’s why he does not stare at the Liberty, or follow her lead. He might simply look for excitement from the revolutionary movement, not fight for specific demands. The revolution does not mean much to him. By contrast with other outstanding figures, the young man is very special in terms of his social meanings. Firstly, two men’s faces are clear in the light, but half of his face is in dark.
Secondly, he is the only figure on the left side of Liberty. His composition also makes him a special component in the painting. Thirdly, in the crowd at the back, we cannot identify any young fighter. This young image on the right seems to be isolate. He reflects the fact that the students in Paris at that time got involved in the revolutionary battles, but they were impulsive and purposeless. This figure may also reflect Delacroix’s deep confusion on the revolution. The three Parisian social groups had fought in revolution in 1789. From the observation of David H.
Pinkney, “[t]he composition of the crowd in 1830 was strikingly similar to that of the crowd in the Revolution of 1789. It was not made up of the scum of the capital or of the desperate and the dispossessed; nor did the substantial middle class of business, the professions, and public office have more than a small part in it. ” They were all suffering in terrible living conditions at the time. A heap of corpse lies at the foreground, supporting as the bottom of the pyramidal composition. The man body on the left is half-naked, wearing a nightcloth on his upper part of body and a sock on his right foot.
This implies that he might be innocently involved in the fire during midnight. The other lying body on the right is a guard man in uniform. National guardsmen were acting as a leader part in the uprising. Light on his face helps to read his thought. He seems to die with his mouth open, shutting something. Meanwhile, he seems to die with peace, without any regret. The third one in blue shirt is right under the Liberty. He lies on his stomach and forwards to the Liberty, showing his appreciation and loyalty. This man manages to make the image of Liberty more divine and brilliant.
The Liberty is definitely the main figure of the whole painting. She is a kind of “Wingless Victory”, a powerful woman, fearlessly striding with her left foot forward, holding a musket and a fixed bayonet in her left hand, and fluttering tricolour flag in her right hand. She holds her right hand high and waves the tricolour flag, which shows the signal of leading. And Delacroix puts the warmest colour and a shot of key light on her, which gives her greater prominence than others. A beige petticoat makes the female figure fragile, but shows her braveness by contrast.
The image of Liberty is believed to come from a laundry girl, Anne-Charlotte D. When she found her brother dead with ten bullet wounds in his chest, shot by Swiss troops, she then swore to kill those Swiss as many as possible. She took a musket and shot nine, before got killed by a Captain of lancers with a sabre. Using female figure as a leader, Delacroix reveals women’s activeness in Parisian revolutionary movements during that time. Especially in the proletarian quarter of Paris, women played a very active role, which incarnates the female revolutionary legend, Liberty.
However, through her facial impression, we can see her confusion. Similar as the little man on the right, she does not show any aggressive emotion or determinative faith. If she is clear about her purposes or destination, it is more natural to make her face forward. She is not sure about where she is going to. And that’s why she turns her head back. According to this, perhaps Delacroix has no abstract purpose of this revolutionary movement either, therefore he failed to paint it out and put a hesitating look on Liberty’s face.
All important elements are technically lighted. The light coming from left side of the painting shines brilliantly on Liberty and the tricolour flag, which draws admirers’ attention firstly to this main figure. The right faces of other three followers behind are lighted, which enables people to see their facial impression and therefore to read their minds. The light highlights the corpse heap, indicating the cruelty of the battle. The light also shines on the right side of Notre Dame, telling the exact location of the battle.
The key elements outline the scene in July Revolution. The brightest colour used in the sky behind the Liberty helps to highlight her outstanding importance. It draws admirers’ attention to Liberty’s face and the flag, which emphasize the content of the painting. By contrast with the bright flag and Liberty, other components are presented in darker colours. On the one hand, dull colours enhanced the chaotic atmosphere of the crowd at the background. On the other hand, the cruel facts are hidden in the dark, for example, the death of people and the chaotic environment.
Delacroix achieved a balanced composition in the painting. Liberty herself stands on the middle ground of the painting, upon a heap of corpses. Her right hand with the fluttering tricolour flag is the tip in the pyramid structure, supporting by the triangular corpse heap. The young man is next to her left, making the structure stronger in a triangle shape. The idea of Liberty was not fresh to the Parisian society in 1830. Delacroix decided to paint out the contemporary event in October, 1830, according to his letter to his brother.
By then, Parisian citizens took every opportunity of events in Paris to reinforce their power, in behalf of ‘liberty’. “This protest sometimes included an additional dimension, learnt from revolutionaries in Paris and seemingly legitimized by the tricolor and the official proclamations announcing the new regime——they often protested in the name of ‘liberty’”. (Merriman) The idea of ‘liberty’ had permeated the city of Paris at that time. Delacroix was strongly exposed to the idea and therefore painted the ideal figure in greater prominence.
Delacroix might also want to seek help from the Liberty to save and lead the aggressive society in an artist’s way. Human seeks help from the legend, not because he believes in them, but only finds nothing in real existence could save him. This principle could apply to the city of Paris. Citizens were so helpless that they had to seek attention and strengthen their power by taking meaningless violent actions, like attacking custom barriers and devastating owned forests . Even though they claimed to be under the name of liberty, what they did was damage not liberation. They accelerated Paris’s fall.
In other words, Liberty reveals his confusion on the revolutionary purpose and his perception of the guilty Paris. Liberty Leading the People depicted an imaginative scene in July Revolution. Parisian middle class, worker class, ex-soldiers and students fight together under the lead of Liberty. The battle breaks out near the Notre Dame, a distinguish landmark of the city of Paris. The three outstanding figures outline the main social group in the revolution, the middle-class, worker-class, and students. The representatives of the middle class and worker class look radical through their faces and postures.
The young man as the only one on the left side of Liberty looks isolate from the crowd and other representatives. This implies the students in July revolution were isolate from other social groups, revealing their different social purposes. Liberty herself looks innocent and calm. She is not emotionally involved in the revolution. The idea of ‘liberty’ came from the social movements in late 1830. Delacroix was eager fo r a real leader who could save and lead Paris, considering the social mess around that time. Liberty Leading the People is actually presenting a desired Paris in Delacroix’s view.