On our first full day in Paris we visited none other than the Louvre. From the start with the I.M Pei designed entrance the Louvre was a masterpiece in architecture as it combined the modern entrance and lobby with the classic buildings surrounding it. The elevators seemed to be an object out of the Art Deco period that had somehow been realized by the technology advancements of the 21stcentury Our main objective for the day was to see the Delacroix exhibit which we were given tickets to. Each of us were assigned to a partner and the two of us could explore the Louvre together. My partner and I started with the Delacroix exhibit. Admittedly, and to my surprise, the exhibit was one of the most interesting that I’ve seen in Art museums. Personally, I am a great fan of modern art and did not think that I would enjoy the Delacroix exhibit as much however, I realized that I could not have been more wrong. My previous dislike of classical art in museums was most likely due to my lack of exposure and knowledge. I simply felt left out and did not know as much about the artists, and their works and was overwhelmed by the people at the museums who seemed to know a great deal. And like any subject that I am not well-versed in, I tried would stay away and let those more familiar with the subject to enjoy. However, the Delacroix exhibit did much to change that.
With no previous knowledge of Delacroix, his background, and his paintings, I felt as included as anyone else in the exhibit. I walked out of that wing of the museum with sufficient knowledge of Delacroix so that if he ever came up as a topic of conversation in the future, I would feel comfortable talking about him. I will now attempt to share some of my acquired knowledge of Delacroix bellow along with particulars that I found to be interesting personally.
Of particular interest to me was the fact that Delacroix was born into a family of fame and novelty as his father was an ambassador while his brother was a general and baron of the Empire under Napoleon. Having grown up in such fame and prestige he sought to recover some of it through art, since a military career like his brothers was not an option. He then went through three stages as a painter. From 1822 to 1834 he was caught up in trying to establish a name for himself as he rose as an artist. From 1835 to 1855 he became a more traditional painter with bewildering murals and the fame that came to him after the Universal Exposition in 1855. The last chapter in his artistic career was from 1856 until his death in 1863 when he was drawn increasingly to landscapes and nature.
In the first stage of his career, Delacroix had tried his hand at almost every genre, seeking fame through the exploration of what was desired at the time. From literary scenes (mostly lithography) to what was regarded as scandalous modern paintings at the time (The Death of Sardanapalus), he was not afraid to explore. However, one painting, his most famous, was also product of this era. A painting that needs no introduction and has come to be as iconic as the Statue of Liberty when it comes to notions of freedom and liberty. The painting is of course his 1831 masterpiece, Liberty Leading the People, which was painted a year after the revolution in 1830 to commemorate the event. This was for me the most crucial part of his life as a painter, and the one that I found most interesting.
Beyond his classics, I found the paintings he produced after his trip to Morocco to be fascinating as they were filled with details and were in a way portraits of the past. War scenes showing the heroic actions of the French in Nancy or in Greece are great, but they seem all too common to the untrained eye such as mine. Delacroix’s depictions of life in Northern Africa at the time were nothing short of mesmerizing for me. His paintings from this period allow you to step back in time and see what life in Algiers or Tangiers was like in 1832. Much like he takes his audience back in time through these paintings today, Delacroix himself also felt that the region was something akin to a time travel back to ancient times of the Greek or Roman empires and found it very inspiring. I appreciated the lack of drama and the need to depict the classical Roman times for a change. I am grateful that Comte de Mornay allowed Delacroix to accompany him on his diplomatic trip to the region as without him, Delacroix’s talent in depicting such scenes would have most likely remained unrealized.
Although disappointing to the art critics at the time who had grown used to seeing large classical murals and paintings from Delacroix, the final stage of his career truly highlighted his powers as an artist as he painted many landscapes and scenes from memory. Although of smaller sizes, these paintings had a beauty of their own that could. The ocean was depicted beautifully in his painting La Mer A Dieppe, to a degree that it was almost hypnotic, despite being a painting from memory. Also from this period were his paintings depicting Jesus and his followers in a boat. My first thought when seeing such these paintings was how remarkably similar they were to those of the refugees fleeing from Africa in hopes of a better life in Europe. In both cases the boats are small and the occupants seem to be struggling in battling the harsh waves of the indiscriminant sea that has no regard for the lives of children or those of holy figures. I stood for a while looking at these paintings and the sad condition of humanity that in the 21stcentury these refugees have to resort to such rudimentary ways of departing their homelands, in search of safety, opportunity, and at times, the right to survive. And yet our treatment of these refugees, in both the U.S. and the EU is simply shameful at times. Perhaps seeing paintings like this and the hardships of Christ and his followers can change the hearts of many who albeit “religious” and god-loving, claim to have an ancestral right to the safety provided in the EU and the U.S. which is somehow not endowed to these refugees. Maybe these paintings can do much in highlighting the hypocrisy of unfair measures against refugees throughout the world.
Having focused on Delacroix for the majority of my blog, it is only appropriate to devote a small section to the Louvre as a whole as well. To try to express its grandeur and splendor in the confines of this blog is simply not possible, however, I can mention that seeing the Mona Lisa was both essential and humbling in a way. And furthermore, the crown jewels, the décor and architecture of the Louvre, and its sheer size expressed much about the powers, wealth, and size of the French Empire over the past centuries. I was however, as always, surprised by the number of artifacts from countries such as Iran and Egypt that end up museums such as the Louvre. I am no art historian or expert on the subject but I do see it as an unfair practice at times.
Lastly, I could not end this blog with the mention of the Final FIFA World Cup match where France was pegged against Croatia. Having no particular interest in soccer itself, I found the spirit of the French people to be much more fascinating than the game itself. After a few attempts of getting into popular spots for watching the game, some of us had to settle for overcrowded local bars around the city. Observing people’s reactions throughout the game was an eye opening experience for me as I had never seen such unity and shared interests before. The ability of sports to bring people together like this is simply astonishing to me. Furthermore, as if their actions during the game were not enough, the streets of Paris after the game were unreal. I had seen the likes of it in the uprisings in 2009 in Iran as part of the Green Movement but this seemed even bigger than that. Champs Elysees was packed, people were climbing over buildings, and it seemed like humanity had snapped back a few stages on the evolutionary chain. Smoke bombs, pepper sprays, and irrational bikers adorned the streets of Paris alongside more traditional ways of celebration such as fireworks, flags, and horns. While the walk back to the hotel was tiring, it was an absolute pleasure to have been able to experience this, it was truly an experience of a lifetime. To a more rational person like I, there is no reason to flood the streets and engage in what was pure dangerous hooliganism at times just because 22 people passed the ball around on a grass field in Russia. However, I am clearly missing the point and part of the fun, having never been invested in sports, but even I, was glad to celebrate this victory with the French people.