Taste of culture

Learn and enjoy: art, music and words enable us to discover where we come from, so we can decide where we’re going.

Liberty Leading the People

Eugène Delacroix. Louvre Museum.

This is one of the most important works of Romantic art. It portrays the insurrection of the French people against the extremely conservative policies of King Charles X. It was the first work to depict a topic of contemporary politics, which is the reason it caused such huge social controversy.

Eugène Delacroix is widely regarded the leading exponent of French Romantic art. His works stand out for the combination of different characteristics, such as eroticism and death, oriental settings, the domination of colour over line and capturing the will of man as the essential factor.

1. The people’s leader

She is the people’s leader and, like an allegory of Liberty, may bring to mind a statue from Classical Greece. But look at her underarm hair and the rifle she holds in her hand. These remind us of the reality of the Revolution that took place from 27 to 29 July 1830.

2. Revolutionary youth

Here we can see a young boy raising his voice in protest; the symbol of revolutionary youth. He’s wearing the black velvet beret worn by French students as a symbol of rebellion and which, years later, would also be used to dress Gavroche, a character in Els Miserables the work by Victor Hugo (1862).

3. The presence of Delacroix

The characters’ clothing is typical of the time. This is how Delacroix represented the different social classes that joined the revolt. The man sporting a top hat symbolises the bourgeoisie or fashionable urbanites and he carries a double-barrelled hunting gun. It seems this may be a self-portrait of Delacroix himself.

4. Liberal ideas

This figure is dressed completely differently from the other. He’s a worker, wearing tattered clothing, with a beret and a red ribbon at his waist, which symbolises the liberal ideas of the 19th century.

5. The French flag

The kneeling character with a handkerchief on his head represents the French day labourers who spent their life in the field. Against a background of greys, his blue jacket and red belt and the white shirt on the dead body remind us once again of the French flag.

6. The Royal Guard

The body lying on his back among the others is a soldier of the Royal Guard. He can be recognised by his uniform. This was the battalion sent by the king to stop the revolts. There were 200 casualties among the troops, while the civil fighters lost as many as 1,800.

You can find further information in the biography of Eugène Delacroix