Rebellious Soul: Liberty Leading the People

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Rebellious Soul
A Walk on the Wild Side

Curated by Leo Yuan

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

From July 27 to 29, 1830, Parisians rose against Charles X, the last Bourbon king of France, and  replaced him with Louis Philippe, Duke of Orleans. In October, Eugene Delacroix, who witnessed the uprising, created this painting as an expression of his patriotism. He wrote to his brother: "I have undertaken a modern subject, a barricade, and although I may not have fought for my country, at least I shall have painted for her. It has restored my good spirits."

Needless to say, the theme is a rebellious one. Dead soliders of the Second Restoration pile up on the ground, forming a pyramidal composition. The goddess of liberty strides over the corpses, leading her people to overthrow the tyranny. Delacroix spotlights her; her skin shining, her figure pure, her face looking back, beckoning the people to follow her. The sky echoes with the tricolor flag, making the whole scene one of dignity, bravery, and patriotism.

Critics then found the painting provocative; unlike those classic representation of liberty, the moment is grimy and chaotic, and the people, the common men, control too much power in the scene, making themselves fearful and indomitable to those high-up critics and their powerful friends. The work was hidden from public view during the king's reign, and only found itself in the Louvre in 1874. Today, it has become the universal representation of romantic and rebellious passion of those who strive for liberty and a change in the status quo.

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