Eugène Delacroix - Liberty leads the people

von Alexandra Tuschka


The flag of France rises high against the dense fog. The relatively young tricolour was created during the French Revolution. Delacroix, who was born a generation after the political upheaval, will still have been aware of the high symbolic value of the colours, which stand for freedom, equality and fraternity. Here, however, we do not see the French Revolution, as one might spontaneously assume, but the July Revolution of 1830, which is in its tradition.

The personification of liberty who "leads the people" here is called "Marianne". She is accompanied by all kinds of people from all walks of life; the dull light illuminates her back. She has bared her breasts and strides powerfully forward and towards the viewer. She wears the phyric cap - symbol of the French Revolution and, as it were, of freedom. Descending from her pyramidal composition on the right is a small boy with two revolvers in his hands. It is probably the folk hero Arcole. This young freedom fighter died in the fighting at the Hotel de Volle and became a symbolic figure. At the woman's feet, a wounded man is rearing up with his last strength. The colours of the tricolour are picked up in his clothing.


When crossing the barricades, the people will have to pass some corpses blocking the front edge of the picture. The men depicted here, wounded or dead, are victims of the July Revolution of 1830. For three days there were riots in Paris to resist the tyranny of King Charles X, who was pursuing reactionary policies. The bell towers of Notre-Dames still rise up out of the gun smoke and point to the place where the events took place.


The situation shown here was the decisive turning point in the political balance of power in France at the time. Not only did soldiers refuse to fire on their fellow citizens, but citizens of all classes joined the insurgents. The somewhat awkward-looking man on the left probably imagined such an uprising a little differently. He holds his rifle anxiously and tightly. The top hat symbolises his high class. Other classes distinguished themselves with berets or cloth caps.


Although Delacroix hoped for a positive response to his work due to the topicality of the circumstances, he was disappointed. Until 1855, exhibiting the work was forbidden as it was considered too provocative. Shortly after this painting, the painter embarked on his first trip to Morocco, which was to have a decisive influence on his pictorial themes.


Eugène Delacroix - Liberty Leading the People

Oil on canvas, 1830, 260 x 325 cm, Musée de Louvre in Paris