vendredi 1 novembre 2013

"Liberty guiding the People" : the painting of Delacroix (1798-1863) and its amazing keys !

by Jean-Jacques COURTEY, Doctor in Economic Geography, Ph. D
translated from French by himself

The revolutionary Briton Club (created in Versailles on April, 30th, 1789), which revolted notably against the tax system, has disappeared from a long time.
But the deep economic difficulties of present Brittany and its fiery fights against "Ecotax" for lorries, which should have been enforced on January 1st, 2014, are unexpectedly updating a strange flashback move in France this autumn.
It is noticeable that the postponement of this tax, doesn't seem to have apeased the Great Celtic revolt, in a grumbling France, rather worried of a sudden disappearance and thus in search of a new tonus.
Of course, we are neither in 1789, nor even in 1830 when Delacroix painted "The Liberty guiding the People". Moreover, nowadays such a painting would be far more difficult to realize with the strange rise of a rather sneaky and narrow-minded censorship - especially the way he chose to represent Marianne, so little prudish.

This little introduction made, here is an English translation of a French article we published on July 2nd, 2010, about the Delacroix allegoric painting, "Liberty guiding the people" (1830).

Eugène Delacroix immortalized "July 28th, 1830 " in a famous painting representing Marianne holding in one hand the tricolour flag, and in the other hand a rifle with bayonet. That's "Liberty Guiding the People", so admired in Russia, which makes the counterpart of the Spirit of Liberty in the Bastille square, erected in 1831 in the same purposes : the statue contains the names of the persons who died during barricades and the taking of the Arsenal weapons.
It remains that Marshal Marmont (1774- 1852), in charge of Paris defense, beated at that very moment his own record of military ineffectiveness, in spite of the bloodshed : he even surprised the most unbelieving, him who already had previously capitulated in front of the Allies during the Campaign of France in 1814 !
But perhaps was he again demoralized ?
As a matter of fact, this picture is commemorating the "Revolution of July 1830", which put an end to the reign of Charles X (1824-1830), after the incredible clumsiness of the publication in Moniteur, on July 26th, of the four villainous ordinances of his last President of Council, Jules de Polignac (1780-1847) : the first one was suppressing press freedom. Leader of the Party of Ultras (the emigrates of 1789), the prince of Polignac violated the Chart of 1814, by dissolving equalilly the newly elected National Assembly, which hadn't sat even yet.
The days of the "three glorious" (July 27th, 28th and 29th, 1830) led to power Louis-Philippe d'Orléans (1830-1848), Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom, and then finally King on August 7th, 1830, at the instigation of the faithful marquess of La Fayette (1757- 1834) !
Astonishingly, the belt-scarf of the worker who is holding a sabre at the left of the painting (retaining his pistol on the stomach), reminds the one worn by the marquess of Charette (1763 - 1796), one of the last defenders of the Tuileries on August 10th, 1792 : it had even become after the revolt of Machecoul (March 11th, 1793), the rallying symbol of the Chouans ! To underline this point, the worker is wearing thus the beret with the white rosette of the royalist Chouans.

It is important to highlight in this year 2010, when are at last beginning the first excavations of the mass grave of Le Mans, Administrative Center of Sarthe ("Que les entrez - pronounce 'les ans treize' - will get out of their graves...") : overthere was buried hastily under the quicklime a part only of the numerous Vendean victims of the "infernal columns" of Turreau, from "Quatre-vingt-treize" (1793). They were clearly exterminated during the "games of hecatomb" (slaughter). And 217 years will have been needed ("An révolu du grand nombre septiesme"), to see them (re-) appearing.
Let's not forget that the Chouans complained to have been more or less abandoned by Louis XVI's brothers, the count of Provence (future Louis XVIII) and the count of Artois (who became thereafter the famous Charles X) ! The latter were a bit considered as the convenient "fugitives" of July 13th, 1789 : Charette, one of the most prominent Chouan leaders, whom Napoleon Bonaparte himself (1769 - 1821) recognized the strategic genious and the great courage, thus didn't see them only as "emigrant profiteers" who left the boat after the king Louis XVI had paid their enormous gambling debts, by putting himself in danger.
Never Charette could rely upon their real logistic support, which is explaining the final failure of his revolt for freedom in the name of the King and then his son, Louis XVII (Versailles, 1785 - Skelton (UK), - ?), ...till  1796 in fact. As a matter of fact, as Drake, the famous English spy got again in touch with him three months after the Peace of La Jaunaye (February 17th, 1795), he made about-turn by retaking the fight, at the surprise of everybody. But fault of the vital reinforcements of the count of Artois justly, who came to the Isle of Yeu to leave immediately, at his big anger, his fight was doomed to failure final. He stays as an astonishing military leader : he was never where you expected him to be, except the owls (first meaning of the word "Chouans"), and their sisters barn owls !
But let's continue the deciphering of the curious Delacroix painting. You can see on it in a good place the kid Gavroche, on the right of Marianne, singing with two pistols in hands a tune popularized by Victor Hugo (1802 - 1855) in "The Miserables", while Delacroix is said to have represented himself in "bourgeois" almost in the center. He wanted manifestly to show his personal implication in this revolution, so sudden and so unexpected.

Romantic painter and great colorer, Delacroix was however the friend of Charles X (1757 - 1836), for whom he realized in 1824 "The massacre of Scio", representing the Turk repression which followed in 1822 the uprising of Scio island for Greek independence. But he was also the one of Louis-Philippe (1773-1850), which flag was justly the three-colored flag (explaining this representation), and reminding why he chose to become "King of the French" and not anymore "King of France".
But it's true his painting of 1830, always on the topic of freedom acquired at the price of the blood, is holding more than a paradox. It may be the reason why, it will never be exhibited during the reign of Louis-Philippe (1830 - 1848). It will be visible in Paris only in 1863 at the museum of Luxembourg, under the Second Empire then, before being transferred to the Louvre in 1874, becoming a republican icon against all odds. From then on, it is both provocating and more difficult to interpret than it appears first, with its more Vendean mixed component, tinged with a nostalgic and popular Royalism finally, than really Orleanist, even if little Republican in fact.
The fundamental presence of the Vendean worker of peasant origin with a white rosette, in front of the students, the craftsmen and the printers, on the side of Marianne, is the poignant testimony of an uprooted France, and is announcing already the industrial era : peasants started to leave the countryside to come to swell the ranks of the future proletarians of the capital and big cities.
All those characters are fighting side by side for liberty, and the incredible but vibrating hope to find back the greatness of what was !
Thus, this painting is deeply affective, and shows a brotherly run-up of the various components of the population, in a France which wants at last to live - even to relive - all together.
And the child Gavroche is made the interpreter of this nostalgia of  the former idealized France, by his cheeky humour and his singing :

"We are ugly in Nanterre,                        "On est laid à Nanterre,
It's the fault to Voltaire,                             C'est la faute à Voltaire,
And stupid in Palaiseau,                            Et bête à Palaiseau,
It's the fault to Rousseau.                           C'est la faute à Rousseau.

"I'm not a notary,                                      "Je ne suis pas notaire,
It's the fault to Voltaire,                             C'est la faute à Voltaire,
I'm a little bird,                                           Je suis un petit oiseau,
It's the fault to Rousseau.                           C'est la faute à Rousseau.

"I fell on the ground,                                 "Je suis tombé par terre,
It's the fault to Voltaire,                              C'est la faute à Voltaire,
The nose in the brook,                                Le nez dans le ruisseau,
It's the fault to Rousseau."                          C'est la faute à Rousseau."

Who was exactly Marianne in this popular composition ? The answer is not so easy.
For some people, the reference to her character would date from 1792 and would symbolize nascent Republic, even she wasn't at all called this way in Paris at that time.
For others, it was simply the Delacroix model's name (who was also his girlfriend for his amorous games).
Finally, one thought to establish an unexpected link with a famous woman who fought equalilly for liberty, by aiming (with success moreover) at participating to the end of the jacobine regime of Terror, at the peril of her life : MARIE-ANNE, CHARLOTTE de CORDAY d'Armont (1768 - 1793), who was very much connected to the Girondines, and died guillotined on July 17th, 1793, for having killed Marat (1743 - 1793). She considered him as the instigator of the Terror.
This young woman of 24 incarnated paradoxically, by her abnegation and voluntary sacrifice, the salvating jump of a France which didn't want to die.
It remains of all this, that Marianne is a personified and transformer allegory.
And it is constant that France has traditionally been represented by a woman with a generous and nude breast, either before or after the Revolution.
There is in that sense a powerful syncretism at work which transcends differences in a singular historical continuity : from the teats of a nourishing France at the eyes of Sully (1559 - 1641), to the "female-sower" crowned of golden wheat ears or surrounded by a bundle of lictors on the French franc (at the image of Demeter, equalilly called Cybel), or finally to the Marianne of Delacroix, fighting topless and wearing a Phrygian cap. The latter came justly from the kingdom of Cybel in Phrygia, in Asian Turkey.

About the famous ordinances signed by Charles X, which led him to fall ultra-quickly, Chateaubriand (1768 - 1848) had this prophetic sentence : "Still a government throwing itself from the towers of Notre-Dame !"
What importance has got nowadays all which is preceding ? A priori, none !
However, we must avoid thinking that mental representations are secondary in people's mind. They are archetypes, which have got upon this title, a very deep influence on the irresistible collective behaviour, and can thus be recalled innerly to individuals, including and especially to the most unobstrusive ones.
Normally, an archetype is characterized by its great previsibility as long as it is stable. This failing, it would have more the unforecasted characteristics of medical nitroglycerin for heart, by introducing new games of functionning in the spontaneous angor of  "Prinz metal".
From heart beats to the power of only one thought, the tune of liberty, which has never been symbolized by a rebus ("to cut according to dotted lines"), will have change everything !

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