While reading the NBMAA blog post on the recent acquistion of a work by William T. Wiley as well as the post on le dejeuner sur l’herbe, one is reminded of another famous painting that was re-appropriated for an album cover, namely July 28: Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix.
In July of 1830, Les Trois Glorieuses – three days of riots – culminated in the collapse of Charles X’s reign and the enthronement of Louis-Philip, even though the people of Paris attempted to re-instate the Republic on July 28, the same day that is portrayed in Delacroix’s painting.
The bell towers of Notre-Dame can be seen on the right-hand side of the painting, which places the scene behind the barricades that are already heaped with dead people. The allegorical figure of the Republic – also referred to as Marianne – donning a Phrygian bonnet walks purposefully over the pile of corpses. She is holding the tricolor flag in her right hand and a rifle in her left hand. She encourages the people around her to follow her forward to freedom.
The various classes in French society are represented and can be recognized by the clothing they are wearing. The young boy, the emblematic Parisian street urchin, situated on the right side of the painting symbolizes political awareness since he takes his destiny in his own hands. The figure of the street urchin precedes the character of Gavroche of Victor Hugo’s book Les Misérables. Some art historians believe that the man on the left-hand side of the painting is Delacroix himself, a member of the wealthy upper class.
Delacroix’s painting caused quite a stir at the Salon of 1831 since the Republic was shown as a dirty, unkempt, and half-naked woman instead of a symbolic image. The yellow dress Liberty is wearing brings to mind classical drapery. It is held together by a belt at her waist and has dropped to below her breasts showing her underarm hair, which was regarded as vulgar by classical artists.
At the time only allegorical and smooth skinned female nudes were acceptable. This powerful painting was also an indication of how important contemporary art was since Louis-Philip understood Delacroix’s message and decided to purchase the painting to celebrate his succession to the throne. Once the new king owned the painting he decided to hide it from view to prevent its revolutionary tone from turning the people against him.
Delacroix used the same romantic enthusiasm to depict July 28: Liberty Leading the People that he had previously utilized in The Massacre at Chios, which shows a scene from the Greek war of Independence. This painting is also based on contemporary circumstances and depicts events happening on the island of Chios, where thousands of Greeks were murdered by Turkish soldiers.
In 2008, Coldplay decided to use July 28: Liberty Leading the People on the album cover of Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends. The title for the album was taken from another painting, namely Viva La Vida by Frida Kahlo. This Spanish phrase which translates to “Long live Life,” made quite an impression on Chris Martin, singer of Coldplay. Kahlo wrote it onto her painting and wanted to celebrate life even though she was going through substantial pain and life had not always been kind to her. The design team Tappin Gofton created the design for the cover.
Following are three examples where Delacroix’s painting was either used as a cover for a book or as inspiration:
The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad is a book by Fareed Zakaria and also uses July 28: Liberty Leading the People on its cover.
George Antheil titled his Symphony #6 “After Delacroix,” which is partially inspired by July 28: Liberty Leading the People.
Do you like the idea of musicians using famous paintings for their album covers? Can you think of any other paintings or other types of artworks that were used on album covers? What makes this painting so powerful that artists, writers, composers, etc, continue to be inspired by it? Can you think of any other paitings that have been re-appropriated over the centuries?