Some may know it as Armistice Day; for others it’s Veteran’s or Remembrance Day. Regardless of the name, the 11th of November is the day to commemorate those who gave their lives in service during World War I, and honor those who have since fallen in battle. Today, Musebooks is highlighting a selection of masterworks of art that gave life to some of history’s most impactful battles and its heroic figures.
Jacques Louis David, Death of Marat, 1793.
On 13 July 1793, Jean-Paul Marat was killed in his house while taking one of his frequent baths to combat a skin disease. The crime was committed by Charlotte Corday, a twenty-five-year-old woman who had come from Caen, in Normandy, with the intention of murdering Marat. In her eyes, he was guilty of persecuting the Girondins, the political faction with which her sympathies lay. The murder was part of the bitter struggle between the political currents within the National Convention (the assembly, elected in September 1792, that had proclaimed the Republic and dethroned King Louis XVI). The Convention asked the Jacobin Jacques-Louis David, a personal friend of Marat, to execute this painting immediately after the event. In the painting, David does not resort to rhetorical artifice but tersely presents the event in its essential drama: the victim’s lifeless body and the austere furnishings emerge in light against a dark, empty background that takes up more than half the canvas.
[Excerpt from How to Read World History in Art, €8.95]
Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830.
Universally regarded as Delacroix’s masterpiece, “Liberty Leading the People” commemorates the July Revolution of 1830, which resulted in the ousting of King Charles X of France, following his tyrannical repression of election laws. The grand painting depicts a personification of Liberty as a Greek goddess, leading her people forward over the bodies of the fallen, while holding the flag of the French Revolution – the tricolour flag, which remains France’s national flag – in one hand and brandishing a bayoneted musket with the other. The canvas was completed in the autumn of 1830 and in a letter to his brother dated 21 October, the artist wrote: “My bad mood is vanishing thanks to hard work. I’ve embarked on a modern subject — a barricade. And if I haven’t fought for my country, at least I’ll paint for her.”
[Excerpt from The Complete Paintings of Eugène Delacroix, €2.99]
Edouard Manet, Execution of Maximilian I, 1867-1869.
During the late 1860’s Manet produce a series of paintings depicting the execution by firing squad of Emperor Maximilian I of the short-lived Second Mexican Empire. Maximilian was born in 1832, the son of Archduke Franz Karl of Austria and Princess Sophie of Bavaria. He was encouraged by Napoleon III to become Emperor of Mexico following the French intervention in Mexico. Maximilian arrived in Mexico in May 1864 and faced significant opposition from forces loyal to the deposed president Benito Juárez, and his Empire collapsed after Napoleon withdrew French troops in 1866. Maximilian was captured in May 1867, sentenced to death, and executed on 19 June 1867. Manet was a supporter of the Republican cause, but he was nonetheless inspired to start work on a painting heavily influenced by Goya’s Romantic masterpiece “The Third of May 1808”.
[Excerpt from The Complete Works of Édouard Manet, €2.99]
Bill Brandt, Crowded, Improvised Air-Raid Shelter in a Liverpool Street Tube Tunnel, 1940
Brandt was commissioned by the British Ministry of Information to take pictures of the improvised shelters that had appeared in the wake of the first German air raids on London in September 1940. In early November, Brandt photographed in tube stations, wine cellars, shop basements, and crypts—anywhere Londoners sought protection. This project was the antithesis of his moonlit nocturnes, using artificial lighting to document crowded, cramped spaces. Almost without exception these photographs were made for Lilliput, Picture Post, or Harper’s Bazaar. Brandt, like every inhabitant of London, was profoundly changed by the war, and the same was true of the city itself.
[Excerpt from Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light, €17.99]
How to Read World History in Art: From the Code of Hammurabi to September 11, tells the tales of several of these remarkable works and many more. This gripping text spotlighting the crucial role that art plays in such turbulent times is now available at Musebooks.