Listening to Art

05.08: Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People


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Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume five, number eight: Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

This painting was done in late 1830 and is about the July Revolution that happened in France earlier that year. Delacroix did not take part. In his biography Delacroix, Barthélémy Jobert quotes (p. 130) from a letter Delacroix sent to his brother while working on it: “If I have not fought for the country, at least I will paint for her.”

Delacroix’s friend the writer Alexandre Dumas was actively involved in the revolution. I quote Jobert’s translation (p. 130) of what Dumas later wrote about the artist and the first of the Three Glorious Days:

When I saw Delacroix near the Pont d’Arcole on 27 July, he pointed out a few of these men that one only sees in times of revolution, who were sharpening their weapons on the pavement, one had a Sabik, the other a foil. Delacroix was terribly afraid, I tell you, and showed his fear in the most energetic fashion. But when Delacroix saw the tricolor flag above Notre Dame, when he recognized—he, a fanatic of the Empire, whose father was prefect under the Empire of the two most important cities of France, whose brother, having been promoted to general, was wounded on five or six battlefields, whose second brother had been killed at Friedland—when he recognized, we have said—he, the fanatic of the Empire—the standard of the Empire, ah! ma foi, he did not restrain himself! Enthusiasm replaced fear, and he glorified the people, who at first had frightened him.

Twenty-four years later, on 1 July 1854, Delacroix wrote the following entry in his Journal, here translated by Lucy Norton, and the way he describes his personality makes it no surprise he was not a violent revolutionary.

Worked all day without interruption. Wonderful sensation of peace and solitude and of the deep happiness they bring. No one is more sociable than I. No sooner am I with people whom I like—even mere acquaintances, provided there is nothing irritating about them—than I am carried away by the pleasure of being cordial. I find myself behaving as though such people were my friends and I go more than halfway to meet them. I desire to please them, to make them think well of me. This peculiarity must often have given people a wrong idea of my character. Nothing looks so much like deceit and flattery as the desire to be on friendly terms with people, and yet it is simply a natural inclination. I think my nervous, irritable constitution is at the bottom of my strange longing for solitude that seems to be so much at variance with my desire to be sociable, which I carry almost to absurd lengths. I like, for example, to be liked by the tradesman who delivers a piece of furniture to my door. I want every man whom I chance to meet to go away feeling satisfied, whether he is a peasant or someone of importance and yet, coupled with this desire to be polite and to get on well with people, I have an almost foolish pride that makes me avoid anyone who might be of use to me, for fear of being suspected of flattery. The fear of having my solitude interrupted usually comes when I am alone in my studio, because there I am at my real work, which is painting. I have no other. Nothing else is of the least importance to me. I think that this dread, which also haunts me when I go for my solitary walks, comes as a result of my longing to be as friendly as possible when I’m with my fellow creatures. My nervous temperament makes me dread the exhaustion that follows upon such cordial encounters. I am like the Gascon who said when he went into battle: “I tremble as I think of the dangers to which my courage is going to expose me.”

This is a painting, oil on canvas, 325 cm wide by 260 cm high.

Now let’s listen to Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, recorded at the Louvre, in Paris, on 18 July 2019.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit listeningtoart.org.

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Bibliography

All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Delacroix, Eugène. The Journal of Eugène Delacroix. 3rd ed. Edited by Hubert Wellington. Translated by Lucy Norton. London: Phaidon Press, 2001.

Jobert, Barthélémy. Delacroix. Translated by Terry Grabar and Alexandra Bonfante-Warren. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Musée du Louvre. “Le 28 Juillet. La Liberté guidant le peuple (28 juillet 1830).” Site officiel du musée du Louvre. http://cartelfr.louvre.fr/cartelfr/visite?srv=car_not_frame&idNotice=22746&langue=fr.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Eugène Delacroix,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugène_Delacroix.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Liberty Leading the People,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberty_Leading_the_People.