Shelley’s Art Musings – Delacroix Sexist?


Eugene Delacroix – Liberty Leading the People (1830) Musée du Louvre

It’s an iconic and powerfully strong image, isn’t it. Lady Liberty leading the charge of freedom, in what is known as Delacroix’s most famous painting, but the symbolism and composition of the piece have opened debates around sexism and imagery.
Delacroix was notorious for his dramatic paintings, but audiences found his topics and depictions rather hard to stomach, as the scenes are overly violent, too grand, oversized and overpowering in the response that they almost demand.
Delacroix was a leading name in French Romanticism, born in 1798 he was educated at Lycée Louis-le-Grand, and at the Lycée Pierre Corneille in Rouen, where he immersed himself in the classics and won awards for drawing. In 1815 he started his training with Pierre-Narcisse Guérin in the neoclassical style of Jacques-Louis David. When his fellow artist Théodore Géricault painted “The Raft of the Medusa” in 1818, this inspired Delacroix’s first major painting – “The Barque of Dante”.

Théodore Géricault – The Raft of Medusa (1819) Musée du Louvre

From this point, Delacroix continued to create works which divided the audiences, and it isn’t by chance that “The Raft of Medusa” was the painting to initially inspire him, as later, when creating “Liberty leading the People” he echoed the triangular structure of Géricault’s piece to add depth and balance to his greatest painting.
Liberty broke a trend in Delacroix’s style, with a woman leading the people to hope and freedom over a pile of dead bodies. It was no secret that Delacroix saw women as an aesthetic to life and many of his paintings have women in them as draped and accepting of their fate, so it is unusual to see a woman so dominantly prominent in his work. This was a far cry from the status of women in the 1830s, and there are some interesting factors within the painting which stand her apart from the women of any class during the French revolution. Is this just another painting which demonstrates Delacroix’s feelings on women, or is the symbolism much deeper than his apparent sexism?
Obviously, the woman leading the people is no ordinary women, she is, in fact, Libertas and is the embodiment of Liberty. She is shown baring her breasts and holding high the tricolour flag, while in her other hand a rifle fixed with a bayonet. She strides over the dead bodies of men as a small boy, armed with pistols, hurries along beside her, as the revolutionary men come to join her march.
You may think that this painting was a heavily political piece, a depiction of the revolution from the view of those who were opposed to the government, but this is a painting of a moment in time in the revolution where anything was possible, created by a man that was trying to make sense of what was going on around him; its a moment of anarchic freedom, it is the most enduring image of what revolution feels like from within: ecstatic, violent, libidinal and murderous.
This painting is in the style of romanticism, which doesn’t concentrate on the realism of a situation, more externalises the feeling of the artist on to the canvas.
Liberty shows her breasts, not in a sexual display, but in a display of dominance and power. This painting pre-dates Impressionists, who recorded what they saw, rather than depicting symbols in a romantic way. Would it have been possible to paint a French mortal woman in this stance? At the time probably not. Only a symbolic woman could have such a role in a piece of historical propaganda rather than a real woman. She is a robust woman, indicating the strength of her convictions. She is shown in profile, almost obvious to the maddening crowd which surrounds her. She barely notices the path of dead bodies which she strides over. She is ready to fight at close range and defend the honour of her convictions.
The young boy is the symbol of how early this moment in time is within the revolution. He stands for the childlike naivety which the masses created barricades to bring down Charles X. It’s always a disturbing image, an armed child, who doesn’t have the full moral or social sense to truly comprehend what is happening to act on judgement; yet it also echoes the hope which is shown with Liberty at the front.
There are dreamlike qualities to the painting. The revolutionary who looks up at Liberty from the ground has a blue shirt and a red headscarf he has a bit of white shirt poking out under his blue top – that is, he is decked in red, white and blue, echoing the tricolour that flies over the barricades. This man is clothed in a decayed, dying version of Liberty’s flag: he is her sick shadow, an indication and premonition of the outcome of revolution. It doesn’t matter who wins in the end, people still suffer and die.
Is Delacroix sexist in his subject matter? Well, of course, he is! In 1830, it would almost be impossible not to be sexist or patriarchal as the dominant society, even in revolutionary France, was sexist at this time, as was the rest of the Western World. However, is the painting sexual and misogynistic? No, I don’t think it is. Its subject matter is not about sex or sexuality but about the power of the revolution. Oh, so often we hear of the women being the temptress who leads men astray, so why wouldn’t the Goddess Libertas be leading men into a dangerous and fraught situation under the guise of the seduction of freedom.
Delacroix has painted the hysterical freedom and joy of revolution. His painting acting as a reminder of revolution’s most charismatic visual icon, and yet it is not naive. Death is part of the glamour, and there is sickness at the very centre of progress. Romanticism is not an optimistic art. If Delacroix’s painting understands the seduction of revolution better than any other, it also acknowledges the violence that is inseparable from that belief in total change and the rule of the crowd.


Edward Burne-Jones

Edward Burne-Jones, einer der letzten Präraffaeliten, hat imaginäre Welten in beeindruckenden Gemälden, Glasfenstern und Wandteppichen ins Leben gerufen.


Als Edward Burne-Jones’ Ölgemälde König Cophetua und das Bettlermädchen unter dem gerade fertig gestellten Eiffelturm auf der Pariser Weltausstellung 1889 gezeigt wurde, war dies eine ebenso große Sensation wie der Turm selbst. Für sein Werk bekam Burne-Jones nicht nur auf der Ausstellung eine Goldmedaille, er wurde auch mit dem Kreuz der Ehrenlegion ausgezeichnet.

König Cophetua und das Bettlermädchen, 1880-1884.
Öl auf Leinwand, 290 x 136 cm.Trustees of the Tate Gallery, London.

Er war einer der wenigen „Angelsachsen“ – vom Maler John Constable (1776 bis 1837) am Anfang des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts bis Jerry Lewis (* 1926) am Ende des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts –, denen es gelang, die Herzen der französischen Intellektuellen zu erobern. Sogar die Modewelt wurde von einer Burne-Jones-Begeisterung erfasst, und für eine Weile kleideten und gaben sich die modebewussten französischen Damen einem Stil „à la Burne-Jones“ hin, der sich durch blassen Teint, dunkle Augenringe und einen Hauch matter Erschöpfung auszeichnete.

The Briar Rose series: The Council Chamber (Der Zyklus der Wilden Rose:
Der Sitzungssaal), 1870-1890. Öl auf Leinwand, 121,9 x 248,9 cm.
Faringdon Collection Trust, Buscot Park.

Die beiden großen französischen Symbolisten Gustave Moreau (1826 bis 1898) und Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824 bis 1898) erkannten sehr schnell in Burne-Jones einen künstlerisch Gleichgesinnten. Und der Meister der „Décadence“, der „Sar“ Josephin Peladan (1859 bis 1918), kündigte im Jahre 1892 an, dass Burne-Jones in seinem gerade eröffneten Salon de la Rose-Croix ausstellen würde – neben Puvis de Chavannes und anderen führenden Vertretern des französischen Symbolismus und englischen Präraffaeliten. Burne-Jones schrieb daraufhin an seinen, den englischen Präraffaeliten und Symbolisten zuzurechnenden Künstlerkollegen George Frederick Watts (1817 bis 1904): „Dieser ‘Salon des Rose-Cross’ – ich weiß nicht so recht, was ich davon halten soll – hat mir da so ein Pamphlet geschickt, einen Brief, in dem man anfragt, ob ich dort ausstellen würde. Ich bin jedoch ein wenig misstrauisch.“ Wie Puvis – der gegenüber dem Figaro sogar jegliche Verbindung zu jenem Salon abstritt – lehnte auch Burne-Jones die Einladung dankend ab.

Cupid’s Hunting Fields (Amors Jagdgebiet), 1885.
Gouache, 97,2 x 75,2 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Es ist relativ unwahrscheinlich, dass Burne-Jones seine Zugehörigkeit zum Symbolismus akzeptiert oder diesen als solchen überhaupt verstanden hätte. In unseren Augen jedoch erscheint er als einer der repräsentativsten Vertreter des Symbolismus und der weit verbreiteten Fin de Siècle-Bewegung. Der Symbolismus entstand im späten 19.

Hoffnung, 1896. Öl auf Leinwand, 179 x 63,5 cm.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Jahrhundert als Reaktion auf die seit etwa Mitte dieses Jahrhunderts dominierende positivistische Philosophie. Sie drückte sich vor allem in den Gemälden von Gustave Courbet (1819 bis 1877) und Edouard Manet (1832 bis 1883) sowie in den realistischen Romanen Emile Zolas (1840 bis 1902) aus, aber auch im Impressionismus, der vor allem die Sinne seiner Betrachter anzusprechen versuchte.

burne-jones-Selbst-Karikatur als Straßenkünstler
Selbst-Karikatur als Straßenkünstler. Tuschezeichnung, 11,4 x 6,3 cm.
Gezeichnet mit „Starving“. Courtesy of Sotheby’s, London.

Die Bewegung war außerdem als Reaktion gegen Fortschritt und Moderne zu verstehen, wie sie sich mit dem Eiffelturm ausdrückten, und gegen den Siegeszug von Kommerz und Industrie, die auf eben dieser Ausstellung in der gewaltigen Halle der Maschinen gefeiert wurden und die bei Puvis de Chavannes Horror und Alpträume ausgelöst hatten.

The Merciful Knight (Der barmherzige Ritter), 1863.
Aquarell und Gouache, 100,3 x 69,2 cm.

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Edward Burne-Jones

One of the last Pre-Raphaelites, Edward Burne-Jones brought imaginary worlds to life in awe-inspiring paintings, stained glass windows and tapestries

When Burne-Jones’ mural sized canvas of King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid  was exhibited in the shadow of the newly constructed Eiffel Tower at the Paris Exposition universelle in 1889, it caused a sensation scarcely less extraordinary than the tower itself. Burne-Jones was awarded not only a gold medal at the exhibition but also the cross of the Légion d’honneur.

King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid, 1880-1884. Oil on canvas, 290 x 136 cm. Tate Britain, London.

He became one of those rare “Anglo-Saxons” who, from Constable in the early nineteenth century to Jerry Lewis in the late twentieth century, have been taken into the hearts of the French intelligentsia. For a few years while the Burne-Jones craze lasted, fashionable French women dressed and comported themselves “à la Burne-Jones”, cultivating pale complexions, bruised eyes and an air of unhealthy exhaustion.

The Annunciation (“ The Flower of God”), 1863. Watercolour and gouache, 61 x 53.3 cm.
Collection. Lord Lloyd-Webber.

The two great French Symbolist painters Gustave Moreau and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes immediately recognised Burne-Jones as an artistic fellow traveller. In 1892, the cheer leader of the “Decadence” “Sâr” Joséphin Péladan, announced that Burne-Jones would be exhibiting at his newly launched Symbolist Salon de la Rose-Croix alongside Puvis de Chavannes and other leading French Symbolist and English Pre-Raphaelites. Burne-Jones wrote to his fellow artist George Frederick Watts “I don’t know about the Salon of the Rose-Cross — a funny high-fallutin’ sort of pamphlet has reached me — a letter asking me to exhibit there, but I feel suspicious of it.”

Sidonia von Bork, 1860. Watercolour and gouache,
33 x 17 cm. Tate Britain, London.

Like Puvis de Chavannes (who went so far as to write to Le Figaro denying any connection with the new Salon), Burne-Jones turned down the invitation. It is very unlikely that Burne-Jones would have accepted, or perhaps even have understood, the label of “Symbolist”. Yet, to our eyes, he seems to have been one of the most representative figures of the Symbolist movement and of that pervasive mood termed “fin de siècle”.

Going to the Battle, 1858. Grey pen and ink drawing on vellum paper, 22.5 x 19.5 cm.
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Symbolism was a late-nineteenth-century reaction to the positivist philosophy that had dominated the mid-century. It found expression in the gross materiality of the paintings of Courbet and Manet and the realist novels of Emile Zola and in Impressionism with its emphasis on sensory perception. Above all, it was a reaction against the belief in progress and modernity represented by the Eiffel Tower itself and against the triumph of industry and commerce celebrated in the vast “Hall of Machines” in the same exhibition, which had filled Puvis de Chavannes with horror and had given him nightmares.

Clara von Bork, 1860. Watercolour and gouache, 34 x 18 cm.
Tate Britain, London.

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Edward Burne-Jones


Lorsque Le Roi Cophetua et la jeune mendiante de Burne-Jones, toile de la taille d’une peinture murale, fut exposée lors de l’Exposition universelle de 1889 à l’ombre de la Tour Eiffel récemment construite, elle fit à peine moins sensation que la tour elle-même. Lors de l’exposition, Burne-Jones reçut non seulement une médaille d’or mais aussi la Légion d’honneur.

Le Roi Cophetua et la jeune mendiante,1880-1884.
Huile sur toile, 290 x 136 cm. Tate Britain, Londres.

Il devint l’un de ces rares « anglo-saxons » qui, de Constable au début du XIXe siècle jusqu’à Jerry Lewis à la fin du XXe siècle, avaient été intégrés au coeur de l’intelligentsia française. Pendant les quelques années que dura l’engouement pour Burne-Jones, des femmes françaises à la mode se vêtirent et se comportèrent « à la Burne-Jones » et cultivèrent le teint pâle, les yeux cernés et les airs d’épuisement maladif.

Saint Georges et le dragon
Saint Georges et le dragon : La Pétition au roi, 1865-1866.
Huile sur toile, 106,7 x 183 cm.
Hanover College, Hanover (Indiana).

Les deux grands peintres symbolistes français, Gustave Moreau et Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, reconnurent immédiatement Burne-Jones comme l’un de leurs compagnons de route artistique. En 1892, tête de file de la « Décadence », « Sâr » Joséphin Peladan, annonça que Burne-Jones allait exposer dans son « Salon de la Rose-Croix », récemment instauré et dédié aux symbolistes, aux côtés de Puvis de Chavannes et d’autres symbolistes français significatifs ainsi que de certains préraphaélites anglais.

Saint Georges et le
Saint Georges et le dragon : La Princesse Sabra tirant au sort, 1865-1866.
Huile sur toile, 106,7 x 183 cm. Hanover College, Hanover (Indiana).

Burne-Jones écrivit à son confrère George Frederick Watts : « Je ne sais rien au sujet de ce Salon Rose-Croix, j’ai reçu une sorte de pamphlet ampoulé assez amusant, une lettre me demandant d’y exposer, mais j’ai des réserves à cet égard. » A l’instar de Puvis, qui alla jusqu’à écrire au Figaro pour nier toute relation avec ce nouveau Salon, Burne-Jones refusa l’invitation. Il aurait été très invraisemblable que Burne-Jones ait accepté ou peut-être même compris l’étiquette de « symboliste ».

Le Chevalier
Le Chevalier miséricordieux, 1863. Aquarelle et gouache, 100,3 x 69,2 cm.
Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham.

Pourtant, à nos yeux, il semble avoir été l’un des membres les plus représentatifs du mouvement symboliste et de cet esprit « fin de siècle » si largement répandu. Le symbolisme était une réaction de la fin du XIXe siècle à la philosophie positiviste, qui avait dominé le milieu du siècle, et avait trouvé à s’exprimer dans la matérialité crasse des peintures de Courbet et de Manet et le réalisme des romans d’Émile Zola ou encore dans l’emphase mise sur la perception sensorielle par l’impressionnisme.

La Lamentation, 1866.
La Lamentation, 1866.
Aquarelle et gouache sur papier marouflé sur toile, 47,5 x 79,5 cm.
William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow.

Par-dessus tout, il s’agissait d’une réaction contre la croyance dans le progrès et la modernité incarnés par la Tour Eiffel elle-même, et contre le triomphe de l’industrie et du commerce célébrés dans la vaste « Salle des Machines » de la même exposition qui avait horrifié Puvis de Chavannes et lui avait donné des cauchemars.

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