Eugene Delacroix’s 1826 oil painting Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi is a monumental history painting commemorating a major battle of the Greek War of Independence. The conflict was watched with considerable interest by artists and poets of the day, many of which could have been described as playing a part in the Neo-Classicist movement and consequently having a fervent interest in the fate of the Greek people. Currently housed in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux, Delacroix’s allegorical reproduction of the Third Siege of Missolonghi by the Ottoman forces in 1826, in which a mass breakout was attempted by many of the besieged citizens, is a moving image of a national phoenix rising from the miserable rubble. The sortie tragically failed and many of the Greeks were killed. It would be not be until 1832 that the nation achieved independence. The town of Missolonghi was besieged a number of times by the Ottomans and the death of Lord Byron in the area during the same year as Delacroix’s painting of Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi added to the infamy of the town.
Like his later work Liberty Leading the People, Delacroix depicts the emblematic Greek woman wearing traditional costume, her chest bare, with her arms outstretched in mourning. Wavering between national allegory and traditional battle scene, Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi is an expressive canvas rendered with a masterful eye for drama and contrast. As the leader of the French Romantic School, Delacroix's careful reproduction of the effects of light would greatly influence the Impressionists of the 1870s, and his allegiance to the Venetian Renaissance ideals of depicting movement rather than clarity of form forged an immensely sublime body of work. Deeply interested in Orientalist themes, Delacroix broke from the classical imagery of his day and travelled through North Africa in search of diversity and fresh visions - Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi is one of his most moving discoveries.
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