Generally, Delacroix chose his subjects from either non-Classical or post-Classical periods and literature, but sometimes dealt with a Greek subject that moved him. Other sources of subjects were the events of his own time, notably popular struggles for freedom; the ill-fated revolt of the Greeks against against Turkish rule in the 1820's; the Parisian revolution of 1830, which overthrew the restored Bourbons and placed Louise Philippe on the throne of France. In Liberty Leading the People done in 1830, Eugène Delacroix makes no attempt to represent a specific incident seen in actuality. Instead, he gives us a full-blown allegory of revolution itself, teeming with unidealized and carefully presented details. Liberty, a majestic, partly nude woman, whose beautiful features wears as expression of noble dignity, waves the people forward to the barricades, the familiar revolutionary apparatus of Paris streets. She carries the tri-color banner of the republic and a musket with a bayonet and wears the cap of liberty. Her advance is over the dead and dying of both sides -- the people and the royal troops. Arrayed around her are bold Parisian types: the street boy brandishing his pistols and the menancing prolétaire with a cutlass, the intellectual dandy in plug hat with sawed-off musket. In the background, the towers of Notre Dame rise through the smoke and clamor, witnessing the tradition of liberty that has been cherished by the people of Paris throughout the centuries.

In terms of form, Liberty Leading the People still reflected the strong impression made on Delacroix by the art of Géricault, especially Raft of the Medusa (; the fact that Delacroix made an allegory of Liberty shows he was familiar with traditional conventions. The clutter of sprawling bodies in the foreground provides a kind of base for the pyramid of the figures in the center, which builds the heavy, inert forms of the dead and dying to the frantic energy of Liberty and the citizens still engaged actively in the struggle. The flashes of light suggest gunfire, while the intermingling of light and shadow echoes the confusion of the battle and the dense atmosphere stirred up by conflict. The forms were generated from the {Baroque], as they were in Géricault, but Delacroix's sharp agitation of them created his own special brand of tumultuous excitement.

Delacroix's early use of the vignette shows him to have been an innovator. He was always studying the problems of his craft and always searching for fresh materials to supply his imagination. These were conscious efforts on his part; he said,

"style can only result from great research"'

No other painter of the time explored the domain of the Romantic subject and mood as thoroughly and definitively as Delacroix, and none matched his style and technique. Delacroix technique -- impetuous, improvisational, and instinctive, rather than deliberate, studious and cold -- epitomizes Romantic painting. In the end his friend Silvestre, in the language of Romanticism, delivered a eulogy that amounts to the definition of the artist:

Thus died, almost with a smile on August 13, 1863, the painter of great race, Ferdinand Victor Eugéne Delacroix, who had the sun in his head and storms in his heart; who for forty years played upon the keyboard of human passions and whose brush -- grandiose, terrible or suave -- passed from saints to warriors, from warriors to lovers, from lovers to tigers, and from tigers to flowers.

An image of this painting may be viewed at

Mark Harden:

Detail of Liberty:

Detail of musket-bearer (Delacroix self-portrait):


Lometa. "Artists and Art in the Classroom" Tucson, Arizona.
1994. (Lecture presented at St Joseph's Catholic School.)

Justus, Kevin. "Art and Culture II." Tucson , Arizona.
1992. (Lecture presented at Pima Community College.)

De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

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