LOS ANGELES, CA – When the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux, France decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sister Cities relationship between Bordeaux and Los Angeles, a search was begun for a work of art that would both symbolize the association and speak to the contemporary world.
The museums chose to present the iconic painting “Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi.”
Created in 1826 by Eugene Delacroix, the leading French Romantic painter of the day in response to the Ottoman massacre of the Greeks of Missolonghi, the painting, whose home is the Musee des BeauxArts, is one of the most celebrated French paintings of the 19th century.
Leah Lehmbeck, Curator of European Painting at LACMA was very pleased with the decision.
“It reaches out to the public because it’s so recognizable – it’s one of those Art History 101 pictures…that immediately resonates with people who never studied art history.” She said the subject matter itself speaks to our times, when there are struggles for freedom in many nations.
“The fact the French were supporting the case of freedom from Ottoman rule resonates today…people see it and they understand what it means,” she said.
The painting was executed in 1826, shortly after the event it commemorates.
Along with over 200 paintings exhibited alongside it, “the painting was created for an exhibition
that was created entirely for Greek relief…It was plunked down in a gallery in the middle of Paris so that people could see it,” Lehmbeck told TNH.
She noted that the target was the policy of the French government and it changed the course of the Greek War of Independence. “The monarchy was not interested in assisting the Greek rebellion. The Germans and English wanted to help and it was only through this public rallying cry,” that French policy began to change.
“The painting of a female allegory of suffering Greece succeeded in conveying the plight of the
Greeks to the French public. Reflecting on current politics, a strong interest in non-European
cultures, and even in English literature, this richly dramatized plea for help, was, from the
first, a politically engaged propaganda painting,” a museum press release noted.
LACMA reached out to the Greek consulate but did not hear back from them, and no Greek-American groups communicated with the museum about it. Until she learned from TNH of the existence of dozens of parishes and organizations in California, Lehmbeck speculated, erroneously, that it was because there weren’t many Greeks in the state, but there is still time for Greek-Americans and Philhellenes to make their presence felt – and to be inspired.
The exhibition runs until February 15.