Liberty Leading the People (La Liberté guidant le peuple, 1830)

The picturesque image of Liberty leading the July Revolution in France

Sylvia Borissova

Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People (La Liberté guidant le peuple, 1831). Louvre.

Liberty Leading the People (La Liberté guidant le peuple) is a painting by the French Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix (1798—1863), dedicated to the July Revolution of July 27—29, 1830, against King Charles X’s dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies, the restriction of suffrage by land qualification and the imposition of repressive measures against the progressive press. The revolution began with a mass armed uprising of workers and craftsmen, with the support of the petty and middle bourgeoisie and the intellectuals, to protect the constitutional rights stated in the Constitutional Charter of France of 1814. The painting recreates in particular the events of July 28, when the rebels took over the town-hall in Paris.

A woman representing Liberty is leading the people to a won future through the bodies of the dead, holding in one hand the flag of the French Revolution—nowadays the national flag of France, and in the other hand—a musket with a bayonet. She wears a Phrygian cap, a symbol of emancipation. She is likened to Marianne, the symbol of France and the French Republic. She is also called the ‘Republican Joan of Arc’ because of the inaccessibility suggested by her posture and raised right hand, which led to victory. The eyes of the men at the front are focused on the figure of the half-naked young woman, who, compared to the rest of the picture, brings in another world—unfolded and barefoot, with a pleated tunic like the ancient ideal of beauty, the statue of Venus de Milo.

Delacroix painted his painting in the autumn of 1830, and the work was first exhibited in May 1831 at the official Salon, which the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris organized regularly, annually or every two years since 1667, and in the period 1748—1890 became the largest cultural event in the world.

The French government bought the painting for 3,000 French francs to hang it in the throne room of the Luxembourg Palace and to remind the ‘citizen-king’ Louis-Philippe of the July Revolution, through which he ascended to power. However, the idea did not materialize. Instead, Delacroix was allowed to send the work to his aunt Félicité, and in 1848 and 1855 he exhibited it in temporary exhibitions. Since 1874, the painting has been part of the Louvre’s collection.

Eugene Delacroix witnessed the revolution in the first person and filled with symbols and signs his picture, which has long become an emblematic image of the triumphant French Republic and serves to this day in the ongoing struggle for freedom and human rights.

Again in July—July 13, 2013, in Sofia, Bulgaria, as part of the anti-government protests was presented a performance—a partial replica of Delacroix’s art work called ‘The Naked Freedom’ with the participation of Bulgarian actress and model Tanya Ilieva in the lead role.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *