Liberty leading the people, c. 1831

Audio Guide# 3461, Salon of 1831

Eugène DELACROIX (Charenton-Saint-Maurice (Val-de-Marne), 1798 - Paris, 1863)

Denon wing, 1st floor, Mollien Room 77

Liberty, personified as a robust, bare-breasted, fuzzy-armpitted, humanlike Goddess, walks on a pedestal of corpses. Paris, 1830. Yet another revolution, this time about constitutional violations (hello... Obama?). A new king was installed and this giant painting was to remind him to behave... or elseHe promptly dumped it into dusty storage even though it was the star of the Salon of 1831, a most important yearly Parisian art event.
Description: Liberty holds the French flag and a bayoneted musket (rifle), and leads people of all classes: bourgeoisie, workers, college kids, all symbolized by different hats. Another minuscule flag (encircled, above) flutters atop the Notre Dame in Paris. The action in a "triangle" sweeping up signifies victory. European art loves flags, hats, triangles, corpses and pedestals (fancy name: plinths)!

Artist & Romanticism:  Delacroix, the painter, didn't fight, so to not feel useless, he painted this in 3 short months. He was the master of the Romantic movement in which poetic, emotional, powerful works used freely brushed, soft colors instead of the precise drawings of the neoclassical school.
The fighters represent many classes, identified by hats: 
(1) Tophat: bourgeoisie (land or factory owner)
(2) Beret: factory worker
(3) Napoleon-hatted ("bicorne"): college kid cutting classes so he can be cutting people up
(4) Infantry cap: urchin sneaking in
(5) Black velvet beret: a young revolutionary with pistols and a very sensible lunch bag packed by his mom. He inspired Gavroche, a character in Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables."
(6) Conical Phrygian cap from Turkey: Liberty herself! Not very stylish but it symbolizes freedom
(7) Scarf-head: a wounded temp-worker -- they always get shafted, don't they?
(8) Baseball cap: trick question. There isn't one.

"Liberty" was inspired by The Raft of the Medusa (right here, in this room), which also has a triangular setup and a pedestal of corpses. It's about a real incident of French cannibals stranded on a makeshift raft. Yes, they had wine: they were French!
Very similar in structure: Raft of the Medusa

"LIberty" inspired the Statue of Liberty (1875), Victor Hugo's book Les Miserables and bad Broadway and Hollywood musicals. It inspired me to go shower.
How many triangles do you see? Only two are marked.

"Extra! Extra!" (optional)

Around this time, the battery and the rubber band were invented, the first Oktoberfest happened, Beethoven composed Für Elise and later on 10,000 people attended his funeral, the Book of Mormon (not the musical) and Pride and Prejudice were published, Napoleon died, Egyptian hieroglyphs were deciphered, the first photographs were taken, England's Victoria became HRH, Morse's first telegram was sent, Darwin went to the Galapagos Islands, the Brits controlled most of India and also suffered a disaster in Afghanistan (hasn't anyone learned yet?), the first passenger train started in England, Charles Babbage invented the computer (woohoo!!!!), and Simón Bolívar liberated Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela. Whew!

Musicals.  The painting inspired Victor Hugo's book Les Miserables that 162 years later inspired the eponymous Broadway musical, affectionately called Les Mis^ and two bad Hollywood versions starring Liam Neeson (1998)^ and Hugh Jackman (2012)^ . 

Statue of Liberty. Thankfully, no musicals about Lady Liberty exist. Yet. What does exist is the 1/6 scale original model in the wonderful Arts et Métiers^ science museum, just 20 minutes away from you by foot  -- you should go!

Who's his daddy? Delacroix's dad was a statesman... but his real dad was Talleyrand, a Machiavellian diplomat, better than Bismarck.

Endless uselessness: Who is the model the top hatted guy is based on: Delacroix himself? A theatre director? The curator of the Louvre at that time? No one is sure but art experts over centuries have spent a lot of serious time debating this stuff and getting paid for it.

Title in French: a Liberté guidant le peuple
Department of paintings: French painting
References: WikipediaLouvre