In studying Delacroix, I was perhaps most struck by his infamous painting Liberty Leading the People. This painting depicts dead soldiers in the foreground while the French are marching forward under the tricolor flag of France. The men in the painting are from all different social classes and the woman – Liberty – is seen as a symbol of the people and of the revolution. Although the painting was purchased by the French government, it was not shown to the public because Delacroix’s glorification of liberty was deemed to be too inflammatory. However, after Louis Philippe was replaced by Napoleon III, the painting was finally put on display and can now be seen at the Louvre.
Delacroix’s depiction of liberty in his most famous painting is inspiring because of the techniques that are used. The use of light in the painting is extraordinary. The source of light comes from the right and illuminates Liberty through the haze of smoke. There is also such special attention to detail. The men following Liberty are blurry in the background and become ever more distinct as they make their way through the cannon fire and haze of smoke. While there is great attention to the painting of each of the characters, Delacroix was known for his rejection of the Enlightenment and his leadership of the Romantic School of French painting. Many argue that this painting serves as a marker for the end of the Enlightenment as the Revolution was seen as the beginning of the Romantic period.
Interestingly, some scholars have noted that this painting could be considered the first political work of modern painting. Delacroix has painted the image in a way that allows the viewer to participate in the action and to sympathize with the cause of the revolution. In some ways, I thought of this painting as a type of political propaganda. Not necessarily in the negative sense that we normally associate with the word, but more in a sense that artists are beginning to use art and imagery as a means to speak out against the government. We see some of this in the paintings of the Renaissance, paintings that went against the wishes of the church or government in subtle ways. However, as we move into the romantic period I think we begin to see more paintings that focus less on the exactness that was glorified during the Enlightenment and more on the message of the image.