Delacroix 1830–Chaos and Purpose
Born 1923 New York, NY
Died 2002 New York, NY
Oil on canvas mounted to sculpted foam board
80 1/4 x 98 1/4 inches
Accession date: 2007
Bequest of Isadore and Kelly Friedman
Delacroix 1830–Chaos and Purpose is an interpretation of and homage to the French Romantic painter, Eugene Delacroix (1798–1863) and his 1830 masterpiece Le 28 juilet: La Liberté guidant le people [July 28: Liberty Leading the People]. It has been called the first modern painting to depict the political causes of contemporary life, specifically the July Revolution of 1830 that resulted in the overthrow of the reigning monarch, Charles X (brother of the beheaded Louis XVI). Rivers made one drastic change to Delacroix’s composition: he inserted a portrait of the older artist in the middle foreground. This work is part of series entitled “Art and the Artist” in which Rivers also paid tribute to his other idols of his from history: Léger, Matisse, Mondrian and Picasso; and in each case manipulated one of their key works by inserting their portrait. To construct these monumental relief paintings, Rivers cut the raised forms out of foam board, layered them atop one another, covered them with canvas and then painted the entire surface.
His was a brushy nonchalant painting style, an amalgamation of the free brushstrokes of Abstract Expressionism and his drive to depict, and in many instances commemorate, the human figure. Declaring early in his career, “I can’t put down on canvas what I can’t see. I think of a picture as a smorgasbord of the recognizable.” Often identified as a Pop pioneer in the late 1950s, Rivers became one of the most important 20th-century American artists in the figurative tradition. He began his career as a jazz saxophonist, studying painting in 1945 with the noted Abstract Expressionist painter and teacher, Hans Hoffman, and quickly became a key figure in New York’s art world, developing a passion for show business and popular culture.