Delacroix’s ‘Greece on the ruins of the Missolonghi’ on Display at LACMA

Sometimes a painting is more than just a painting, such is the case with “Greece on the ruins of the Missolonghi,” one of the most celebrated French paintings, ever. This masterpiece by Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) will be on display at LACMA from Nov.16, 2014 to Feb. 15, 2015.

To understand the importance of “Greece on the ruins of the Missolonghi,” one must first know a bit of history. The piece was painted in 1826 to commemorate a pivotal moment in the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire. In 1825, the city of Missolonghi was besieged by the Turks. The Greeks, ravished by famine and sickness, attempted to heroically liberate the city. In the end, the Turks killed almost everyone in Missolonghi, but many European (especially French) artists and intellectuals became fervent supporters of the Greek cause, not in the least Delacroix, who dedicated two of his subsequent paintings to Greece.

To those unfamiliar with Greek culture and the painting’s history, “Greece on the ruins of the Missolonghi” may appear to be just another portrait of a beautiful woman; however, this particular lady is meant to be so much more.

“Most of the painting is dedicated to the figure of Greece herself, represented as a young woman wearing traditional costume,” LACMA explains. “Her posture and expression recall traditional religious images of the Virgin weeping over the body of Christ. The image of suffering Greece succeeded in conveying the plight of the Greeks to the French public.”

Before creating “Greece on the ruins of the Missolonghi,” Delacroix painted another piece that paid tribute to the same event, called “Chios and Missolonghi.” Afterwards, he became recognized as one of the leading painters of the romantic style. In 1830 he painted his most influential painting, “Liberty Leading the People,” which depicted another revolution, the July Revolution in Delacroix’s native France.

When it is not traveling, “Greece on the Ruins of the Missolonghi” resides at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France, the sister city to Los Angeles. Its appearance in Los Angeles is to be a rare treat, as the painting is seldom seen leaving France.

‘Greece on the ruins of the Missolonghi’ by Eugène Delacroix will be on display at LACMA in the Ahmanson Building from Nov. 16, 2014 to Feb. 15, 2015. Find more information here.