Eugène Delacroix is known as an important member of the French Romantic Movement. In many of his paintings, he illustrated historical events, tragic poems and novels, as well as mythological tales. Writers such as Shakespeare, sir Walter Scott, Goethe, and Lord Byron influenced Delacroix’s works.
Liberty Leading the People is probably one his most influential paintings. It is an illustration of Parisians taking up arms against the reign of King Charles X. Your eye is automatically drawn to the triumphant Liberty holding her flag. The leftward flow of the flag leads your eye to the crowd and the rest of the painting. Lady Liberty is the focus of the painting standing proud and taller than any other person in the painting. The crowd is marching toward you as if still in action. Liberty is marching while holding a tricolour flag, representing liberty, equality, and fraternity. Below their feet are contorted bodies of soldiers, some half naked. Behind the crowd is a gaze of smoke from cannons engulfing part of the crowd.
Interestingly, in the upper portion of the painting the crowd, except for one boy holding guns, is all to the left of the painting leaving buildings to be the only figures on the right. The crowd is a mixture of social classes ranging from men in tattered clothes representing the middle class or bourgeois, while others are in suits and top hats representing the upper class. This demonstrates the unification against the anarchy, which later leads to the Second Republic in 1848. Note the faces of the men and Liberty are not joyful and triumphant, but rather they are determined and stern. The only triumph within the painting is portrayed in the positions of the bodies and their rush onwards. The gray tones highlight the bright red and blue of the flag, which is echoed in the figure of the man at Liberty’s feet.
Liberty Leading the People has been the symbol of the French Revolution of 1830. The French government bought the painting in 1831 and displayed it at the Palais du Luxembourg; however, shortly after it was taken down and hid from the public’s eye because of the inflammatory political message it portrayed. In 1847, it was displayed at the Louvre.
The works of Delacroix has been influential to many movements following the French Romantic Movement such as Impressionist and Symbolist Movements. According to the Louvre website of thematic trails of Eugène Delacroix, “Many of his paintings depict scenes of suffering, fear, and despair, while others are filled with a sense of boundless rapture and energy or even tranquility.