Sign In Sign out

Théodore Géricault

Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault

Théodore Géricault

Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault

Géricault's fiery, daring personality and short life, fit the mold of Romantic artists of his era and, along with his controversial paintings, profoundly influenced 19th-century art.

Géricault was born in 1791 into a wealthy family in Rouen that moved to Paris some years later. He received his first art classes in Paris in the studios of Carle Vernet and Pierre Guérin. In 1811 Géricault decided to be responsible for his training and began to copy works by the Old Masters in the Louvre. Aged only 21 and almost entirely self-taught, in 1812, Géricault presented his first major work Officer of the Imperial Guard on Horseback (1812) at the Salon. Over the following years, Géricault continued copying, and in 1814 he again showed work The Wounded Cuirassier (1814) at the Salon. This more elaborate composition was not as well-received as the first one.

Having failed to gain a prize in the Prix de Rome, Géricault decided to travel to Italy at his own expense. Once there, he was particularly impressed by the works of the Italian Renaissance artists, above all Michelangelo, and by Rubens. During his stay in Rome, Géricault executed a series of paintings of the horse race known as the Corso dei Barbieri.

Géricault's career was a short one, lasting just over 10 years, but he produced a large and significant body of work. In 1819 he exhibited his most important work, The Raft of the Medusa (1819), at the Salon in Paris. This colossal canvas depicts the aftermath of a shipwreck that had taken place three years before and had captured the public imagination. Géricault focused on human suffering and deployed an intense realism, which together made this work a masterpiece that was enormously influential for both Romantic and Realistic painting.

Géricault died in 1824 after a long illness that prevented him from working on large-scale paintings in the last years of his life. His last paintings were a series of portraits of sitters suffering from mental illnesses. They remained unknown to art historians for many years and are works of enormous realism and expressive force.

Géricault's short career had a significant impact on the history of modern art and the evolution of French 19th century painting in particular. His radical choice of subjects taken from contemporary life, his fusion of classical forms with an atmospheric, painterly style, his passion for horses, his attraction to sublime and horrific subjects, and his compassion for the weak and vulnerable in society make him a singularly complex artist, but one who helped set the path for Romanticism's emphasis on emotion and subjectivity. His most famous work, The Raft of the Medusa, was a watershed moment in the history of modern art, as it married the immediacy of current events and an eyewitness sensibility with the traditional, monumental format of a grand Salon painting. Much of Gericault's work relied on keen observation, social awareness, and at times a politically engaged view of the world around him. Indeed, a unique combination of realism and raw emotion can be seen in many of his works, including the late series of monomaniacs and his earlier "portraits" of guillotined heads.

Gericault's art was utterly contemporary in its attention to current events and the realities of the human condition. He depicted dramatic scenes from real life on a monumental scale and found inspiration as a draughtsman in the most humble subjects. Though he absorbed the lessons of the Old Masters, Géricault's use of brisk, energetic brushstrokes and contrasting light effects created atmospheric scenes that broke free from the refined Néoclassical style of painting.

Much of Gericault's art typifies what we now think of as Romantic, with its attention to the exotic, the emotional, and the sublime. It was in part as a reaction to the earlier Neoclassicism of David and Ingres, which embodied Enlightenment values of order and reason. With Gericault, the individual artist's subjective, emotional response is what counts, a concept that would carry forward into the 20th century.

Géricault's unique approach to artmaking helped to shape the Romantic art movement. His choice of modern subject matter, coupled with the use of complicated poses and dramatic light effects, inspired the work of future Romantic painters such as Eugène Delacroix and Ary Sheffer. Like them, Géricault mined the depths of the human psyche, using the physical body as the outward symbol of the (often degraded) soul. In popular perception, Gericault has come to exemplify the notion of the "Romantic" artist in a broader sense. Known for his highly individualistic and courageous creative spirit, but also for the suffering and torment he endured, Gércault's somewhat sentimentalized legacy can be found in the tragic portrayal of such artists as Vincent van Gogh and Amedeo Modigliani.

More ...

Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault (French: [ʒɑ̃ lwi ɑ̃dʁe teodoʁ ʒeʁiko]; 26 September 1791 – 26 January 1824) was an influential French painter and lithographer, known for The Raft of the Medusa and other paintings. Although he died young, he was one of the pioneers of the Romantic movement.

Born in Rouen, France, Géricault was educated in the tradition of English sporting art by Carle Vernet and classical figure composition by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, a rigorous classicist who disapproved of his student's impulsive temperament while recognizing his talent. Géricault soon left the classroom, choosing to study at the Louvre, where from 1810 to 1815 he copied paintings by Rubens, Titian, Velázquez and Rembrandt.

During this period at the Louvre he discovered a vitality he found lacking in the prevailing school of Neoclassicism. Much of his time was spent in Versailles, where he found the stables of the palace open to him, and where he gained his knowledge of the anatomy and action of horses.

Géricault's first major work, The Charging Chasseur, exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1812, revealed the influence of the style of Rubens and an interest in the depiction of contemporary subject matter. This youthful success, ambitious and monumental, was followed by a change in direction: for the next several years Géricault produced a series of small studies of horses and cavalrymen.

He exhibited Wounded Cuirassier at the Salon in 1814, a work more labored and less well received. Géricault in a fit of disappointment entered the army and served for a time in the garrison of Versailles. In the nearly two years that followed the 1814 Salon, he also underwent a self-imposed study of figure construction and composition, all the while evidencing a personal predilection for drama and expressive force.

A trip to Florence, Rome, and Naples (1816–17), prompted in part by the desire to flee from a romantic entanglement with his aunt, ignited a fascination with Michelangelo. Rome itself inspired the preparation of a monumental canvas, the Race of the Barberi Horses, a work of epic composition and abstracted theme that promised to be "entirely without parallel in its time". In the event, Géricault never completed the painting, and returned to France. In 1821, he painted The Derby of Epsom.

Géricault continually returned to the military themes of his early paintings, and the series of lithographs he undertook on military subjects after his return from Italy are considered some of the earliest masterworks in that medium. Perhaps his most significant, and certainly most ambitious work, is The Raft of the Medusa (1818–1819), which depicted the aftermath of a contemporary French shipwreck, Meduse, in which the captain had left the crew and passengers to die.

The incident became a national scandal, and Géricault's dramatic interpretation presented a contemporary tragedy on a monumental scale. The painting's notoriety stemmed from its indictment of a corrupt establishment, but it also dramatized a more eternal theme, that of man's struggle with nature. It surely excited the imagination of the young Eugène Delacroix, who posed for one of the dying figures.

This is a part of the Wikipedia article used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). The full text of the article is here →

More ...
Théodore Géricault Famous works
View all 118 artworks