Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Guns, Fire and Blood: Paintings For Our Uncertain Times


Guns, Fire and Blood: Paintings For Our Uncertain Times

Art and politics have always been closely interrelated. Artists documented the events or narrated them, often manipulating the truth. Art is full of propaganda, protest and revolution. In the times of political turmoil all over the world, art does not bring consolation. On the contrary, it rather shows that not much has changed over the time.

1. Political assassinations


Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, 1793 Royal Museum of Fine Arts Belgium

David was Marat’s close friend and they had even met a few hours before Marat’s death. They both were the supporters of the French Revolution whereas the murderer, a woman who stabbed Marat while in the bath, was a royalist. She had written a letter to him, pretending to be asking for a meeting to receive some kind of financial support from him. You can see that Marat is still holding this letter and his written response to it. He didn’t have time to sign his offer of help.

2. Executions


Edouard Manet, The Execution of Emperor Maximilian, 1868–69  Kunsthalle Mannheim

Napoleon III had installed his nephew Maximilian I as a new ruler of Mexico. The people didn’t like it at all, especially that Maximilian was inexperienced and completely incompetent as a ruler. Having realized how furious Mexican people were, Maximilian tried to flee but the army captured him and organized an execution. Napoleon seemed not have been very moved by this fact.

3. Protests

tahrir square

George Bahgory, Tahrir Square, 2012

This is a depiction of the Tahrir Square in Cairo during the protests of the Arab Spring. The disordered composition reflects the turmoil of the streets: limbs are tangled, people panicked, a horse and a camel seem to be flying or falling down on the crowds. Baghory uses historical allegories which are well known to the Egyptian nation: the long line of blue referrs to the Nile, the river of life, which flows near the square. The dromedary is a double symbol of Egypt with a hump shaped like a pyramid.

4. Revolts


Ernest Meissonier, The Barricade, rue de la Mortellerie, June 1848

The 19th century was filled with the revolts and social unrest all over Europe. France gave the beginning to national uprisings which directed against the consequent unstable governments installed in France. The narrow streets and alleys allowed Parisians to build barricades which would temporarily stop the soldiers. When Haussmann rebuilt Paris for the emperor Napoleon III, he purposefully widened them to hinder the construction of barricades in the future.
With time barricades turned into a symbol of resistance, unity and persistence- see Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People. Although often romanticized in art, the uprisings were as shown by this painting: bloody and unsuccessful.

5. Wars


Goya, The Disasters of War, 1812

Goya was a libertine who didn’t like the Spanish court. He preferred France and looked up to it as an enlightened land of reason. Yet as soon as France had invaded Spain and dethroned the king, Goya realized how unjust he was. The sadistic cruelty of the French soldiers traumatized Goya and marked him for ever. Two years after the war he offered the new king a set of terrifying prints which showed the real face of the war.

6. Invasions

house beautiful

Martha Rosler, House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, Red Stripe Kitchen, 1967-72

Many Americans were fed up with the American invasion of Vietnam. All the more because it was the first fully tellevised conflict which everyone could watch in their homes. The media coverage of the war was very extensive and the photographs from the front often appeared in the lifestyle magazines on the pages next to the adverts and cooking recipes. These photomontages comment on this phenomenon: they juxtapose the perfect and idyllic American homes with the horrors of war. The result is thoroughly moving.

Find out more:




Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.


More in History

  • 20th century

    The Influence of the Ford River Rouge Complex: Charles Sheeler and Michael Kenna


    How is it possible that a 1000 acre industrial site in Dearborn, Michigan, with ninety three buildings that include blast furnaces, mills, a glass plant, a power plant, an assembly line, one hundred miles of railroad track, and even its own docks, can be the source...

  • 19th Century

    Scrimshaw: True American Art


    Despite the enormity of whales, those pursuing them could go weeks, even months at a time without seeing a single one. With all that time between hunts, sailors needed something to occupy their hands with. From boredom was born the scrimshander. He is the artist who...

  • Art Travels

    The Elephant in the Church and Other Curious Stories of Venice


    With its maze of narrow streets, bridges, and canals linking its splendid architecture and art, Venice is beautiful. It is worth exploring and a wrong turn can be thrilling. Even the elephant was so curious that it went to church. What other stories does the city...

  • dailyart

    The Story of Hitler’s Unrealized Art Museum in Linz


    The Hitler’s Museum – originally in German called Das Führermuseum, was luckily an unrealized art museum within a cultural complex planned by Adolf Hitler for his hometown, the Austrian city of Linz. It was supposed to be the greatest (both in terms of size and collection)...

  • Artists' Stories

    Diego Rivera: The Controversial Story of Man at Crossroads


    At the suggestion of his mother, Nelson Rockefeller commissioned Diego Rivera, a passionate Mexican socialist artist, to paint the mural that was going to decorate the ground floor of the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. The original sketches for the fresco were approved by the family, but...

To Top