This painting, which is a sort of political poster, is meant to celebrate
the day of 28 July 1830, when the people rose and dethroned the Bourbon
king. Alexandre Dumas tells us that Delacroix's participation in the rebellious
movements of July was mainly of a sentimental nature. Despite this, the
painter, who had been a member of the National Guard, took pleasure in
portraying himself in the figure on the left wearing the top-hat. Although
the painting is filled with rhetoric, Delacroix's spirit is fully involved
in its execution: in the outstretched figure of Liberty, in the bold attitudes
of the people following herm contrasted with the lifeless figures of the
dead heaped up in the foreground, in the heroic poses of the people fighting
for liberty, there is without a doubt a sense of full participation on
the part of the artist, which led Argan to define this canvas as the first
political work of modern painting.
Liberty Leading the People caused a disturbance. It shows the allegorical figure of Liberty as a half-draped woman wearing the traditional Phrygian cap of liberty and holding a gun in one hand and the tricolor in the other. It is strikingly realistic; Delacroix, the young man in the painting wearing the opera hat, was present on the barricades in July 1830. Allegory helps achieve universality in the painting: Liberty is not a woman; she is an abstract force.