Equality Leading the People

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1831

Last night I was reading a little bit of Théophile Thoré’s review of the 1848 Salon exhibition. The year 1848 was a very important year in European history. It was the year that Marx’s Communist Manifesto was published, and the year that socialist revolutions broke out all over Europe. Thoré was commenting on the contemporary political sentiment and fervor, and implied that similar political fervor is found in Liberty Leading the People (a painting by Delacroix that was made earlier, around the time of the national French revolution in 1830). Thoré wrote, “It is said that [Delacroix] has just begun an Equality Leading the People, for our recent revolution is the true sister of that national one to which he paid homage eighteen years ago. . . . One can only hope that Delacroix makes haste, and that both paintings will soon be on display, hanging side by side.”1

From what I can tell, Delacroix never made Equality Leading the People, and Thoré may have been discussing only hearsay. Nonetheless, this got me thinking. What type of figure would Delacroix have picked to represent Equality? Given the context of the 1848 socialist revolutions, I’m guessing that he would have picked some type of proletarian (member of the working class).

I think that Equality Leading the People would have contained an interesting idea that is still relevant with current issues. What if Equality Leading the People was being painted today? What figure would you pick to represent Equality? My first thought was Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks. What person (or generalized type of figure) would you choose?

1 Théophile Thoré, “Salon of 1848″ in Art in Theory: 1815-1900, edited by Charles Harrison, Paul Wood and Jason Gaiger, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 1998), 181. (Is available online here).

  • heidenkind says:

    I'm not sure personifications of qualities like equality typically make sense–why is liberty a bare-breasted woman, for example? I would agree with you that Delacroix would have painted equality as a proletarian, though–with the little cap and everything.

  • M says:

    heidenkind, I think you're right. Last night J and I had a conversation along those same lines. Personification figures in art don't usually make complete sense. I guess I was curious to see if anyone equated a type of figure or person with Equality, even if the artistic tradition doesn't always do that.

    (Though I suppose one could argue that Liberty personifies freedom because she is "liberated" from the constraints of a brassiere! Ha ha!) ;)

  • e says:

    I've been thinking over who I would pick as a representation and Frederick Douglass and Jesse James come to mind.
    In terms of women, how about Joan of Arc?

  • M says:

    I really like your Joan of Arc idea, e. Great idea. :)

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.