Boca Raton Museum of Art
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May 5, 2016
Larry Rivers, Liberty Leading the People and Defacement at the Louvre

One of the most interesting pieces I’ve seen hanging in the Permanent Collection galleries here at the Boca Museum of Art is the painting by Larry Rivers. Even if you have never heard of this artist, the piece should be very familiar.

It is an homage to a very famous French painting by Eugène Delacroix from 1830, Liberty Leading the People, hanging in the new branch of the the Musée du Louvre in Lens, France, (which incidentally was defaced recently with no permanent damage).

Completed near the end of 1830, Delacroix depicted a very modern subject. This is the July Revolution, also known as the French Revolution of 1830. It was known as The Three Glorious Days in which the Parisians overthrew King Charles X, the last Bourbon king of France, and replaced him with Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans.

While Delacroix was unable to personally take up arms in the uprising he fulfilled his patriotic duty through depicting the event in a dramatic and visually forceful painting. He wrote to his brother that October "I have undertaken a modern subject, a barricade, and although I may not have fought for my country, at least I shall have painted for her. It has restored my good spirits."

Delacroix 1830 – Chaos and Purpose oil painting by Larry Rivers at the Boca Museum of Art
Larry Rivers
(American, 1923-2002)
Delacroix 1830 – Chaos and Purpose 1993
Oil on canvas mounted to sculpted foam board
80 x 98 inches
Permanent Collection 2007.5.26
Bequest of Isadore and Kelly Friedman

In this allegorical composition where the personification of Liberty is charging into battle atop a landscape strewn with corpses, every kind of Parisian is represented:

  • Gavroche from Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables, who represents the student and youths in revolt (figure at the far right);
  • a factory worker (the figure on the far left with the saber);
  • the bourgeoise (the figure in a top hat); and
  • a temporary worker of Paris (the man raising himself up in the foreground).

Delacroix was a leader in the Romantic Movement and the genuine and impassioned take he brought to this work of art embodied the noble truth of the uprising and the greatness of Parisian citizens.

Larry Rivers, a postwar American artist associated with pop art, is famous for reworking and reinterpreting classical paintings by mixing grand art and absurdity. While living in Paris in 1950, Rivers was influenced greatly by the large-scale paintings hanging in the Louvre and when he moved to New York afterward took up painting full time. He became what is known as a gestural realist.

Rivers’ work combines loose gestural marks that encompass abstract expressionism with realistically rendered images drawn from history and popular culture. This piece by Rivers hanging in our gallery is a perfect example of this style of painting and a stunning addition to our permanent collection. Have a question about the Boca Museum of Art? Call us at (561) 392-2500 or send the Boca Museum an email.

Dorbani, Malika Bouabdellah. July 28: Liberty Leading the People.
Lye, Harriet. Larry Rivers. American Center France.

Posted by: Catherine Quinn, Curatorial Intern @ Thursday, May 30, 2013 12:00:00 am 
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