A pioneer of Romanticist painting in France, Théodore Géricault was a painter whose works were mainly concerned with portraying contemporary controversial themes that were relevant to the present time. His works were often political in nature, confronting such issues as poverty, state injustice, the Spanish Inquisition and slavery. A painting that established Théodore Géricault as a leading artist of his time was the iconic masterpiece titled The Raft of the Medusa – this hallmark piece, with its brooding skies and macabre realism, almost instantly became the centerpiece of the first self-proclaimed artistic movement, Romanticism.
Théodore Géricault was born in a pleasant middle-class enclave of Rouen, France, to wealthy parents that made sure their son was spoon-fed with artistic inclinations from a very early age. In the year of 1808, Théodore began his first apprenticeship with Carle Vernet, an often overlooked Neoclassical painter who shared the same fascination with horses as his young pupil. It was in this surrounding that Géricault was taught about Neoclassical terms and notions, being told to follow in the same footsteps. However, the young artist soon realized that he was interested in a style of painting that was much less rigid and contrived than the one Vernet was fond of.
In order to place himself in a position to learn the things he wanted, Théodore was forced to switch studios in which he was tutored. He turned to Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, an artist who was radically more opened to fresh ideas and experimentation with painting then the case was with Carle Vernet. It was in this studio that Théodore met Eugéne Delacroix, another young fiery Frenchman hungry for new creative fronts. The two would quickly forge a lasting friendship and mutual admiration, eventually going on to found the artistic movement known as Romanticism. Right from the very beginning of his sovereign career, paintings done by Géricault were recognizable by the individuality they possessed. Through his subject matter, techniques and stylistic quirks, the young and talented artist painted like no other contemporary artist. Generally, and this is the case for both his portraits and larger compositions, Géricault preferred a warm palette, heavy on the vermillion, ochre, light red, peach, black and contrasting cream – all in all, he was fond of hues that allowed him to highlight colored spots.
Traditionally, up until this time period in French art history, artists would sketch a full composition in its entirety onto the canvas and then paint over this sketch bit by bit. This was another aspect that separated Theodore from all the other painters – rather than using this pattern, Géricault focused on an individual part of the composition, such as one figure. He would sketch this portion of the overall composition and then paint it fully before moving onto the next section of the canvas. This gave each body or section of the composition the appearance of being its own miniature composition, lending an unparalleled physicality to each figure. After a relatively short stint fighting for Napoleon as a French Musketeer, Géricault became involved in politics, an event which led to the creation of what is considered his Romantic masterpiece, The Raft of the Medusa, painted in 1818. This highly shocking piece depicts a tragic event in French history – the shipwreck of the French vessel Medusa in 1816, a tragic event that was at the heart of controversy at the time. Based solely on the strength of this painting and his numerous lithographs, Géricault toured around England from between the years of 1820 and 1822, gaining widespread fame and fortune along the way.
Upon his return to France, Géricault executed a well-received series of ten paintings depicting various types of insanity. He traveled to the Paris asylum of Salpetriere and painted movingly accurate portraits of the inmates held there. Hair-raising and brimming with realistic visuals as well as underlined by an obvious uncompromising note, this project is still one of the most shocking ones in the entire art history. Unfortunately, this was to be the last of his series. Théodore Géricault died at the young age of 32 from a riding accident and tuberculosis that followed soon after. As fate would have it, he was abruptly taken from the world in the prime of his career. Logically, he did not leave behind a large body of work. What he did leave, however, was impressive in its variety and what ties all of his work together is an interest in the present tense, rather than the depiction of historical events or classical themes that characterized Neoclassicism such as horse races, shipwrecks and portraits of the mentally ill.
Although he died young, Théodore Géricault‘s candid representations, bold themes and remarkable talent influenced many of his contemporaries, including the legendary aforementioned Eugène Delacroix who, interestingly enough, served as one of the models for the Raft of the Medusa. Géricault was celebrated by younger generations of artists as well – they were inspired by his skill, audacity and the ability to cause nationwide awareness with nothing but his artistic craft. In many ways, this model became the prime example of what a modern artist’s role in the world should be and Théodore’s standard is still often referenced to this day by contemporary authors hoping to establish themselves as creative revolutionaries.
Featured image: Théodore Géricault – The Wreck (detail) – Image via pinterest.com
All images used for illustrative purposes only.
|2017||Praised and Ridiculed: French Painting 1820-1880||Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich||Group|
|2017||Géricault To Toulouse-Lautrec||Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Main||Group|
|2017||The Sculptural Line||The Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA||Group|
|2016||The Benefactor Who Caused A Stir, Because He Knew That Art Is For Everyone||Kunstareal München, Munich||Group|
|2016||Drawings and prints. Selections from the Met collection||The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY||Group|
|2016||Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible||Met Breuer, New York City, NY||Group|
|2015||An Eye for Excellence: Twenty Years of Collecting||The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA||Group|
|2015||Meisterzeichnungen: 100 Jahre Grafische Sammlung||Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich||Group|
|2014||Théodore Géricault, Fragmenten Van Mededogen||Museum of Fine Arts Ghent, Ghent||Solo|
|2014||Géricault Fragments Of Compassion||Museum of Fine Arts Ghent, Ghent||Solo|
|2014||Sade. Attacking the Sun||Musée d'Orsay, Paris||Group|
|2014||Mind’s Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne||Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX||Group|
|2014||Zurück in die Zukunft||Kunsthalle Krems, Krems||Group|
|2014||El hombre al desnudo||Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City||Group|
|2013||Passport to Paris||Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO||Group|
|2013||Normandy's Painters||KUNSTEN Museum of Modern Art, Aalborg||Group|
|2013||Déjà-vu? Die Kunst der Wiederholung von Dürer bis YouTube||Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe||Group|
|2013||Old Masters to Monet: Three Centuries of French Painting from the Wadsworth Atheneum||Mississippi Museum of Art MMA, Jackson, MS||Group|
|2012||Medieval to Monet||The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT||Group|
|2012||Painted in Normandy||National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kiev, Ukraine, Kiev||Group|
|2012||Master Drawings London 2012||Thos. Agnew's and Sons Ltd., London||Group|
|2012||Déjà-vu? Die Kunst der Wiederholung von Dürer bis YouTube||Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe||Group|
|2011||Drawings by British and European Artists 1600-1900||Thos. Agnew's and Sons Ltd., London||Group|
|2011||Master Drawings||Schroeder Romero & Shredder, New York City, NY||Group|
|2011||Zettels Traum||Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal||Group|
|2011||New Art, Formerly Known As New Art||Circleculture Gallery, Berlin||Group|
|2010||From Delacroix to Kandinsky||Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels||Group|
|2010||All art has been contemporary||Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg||Group|
|2010||Crime and Punishment||Musée d´Orsay, Paris||Group|
|2006||Géricault: la folie d'un monde||Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, Lyon||Solo|
|2003||Age of Napoleon||Childs Gallery Ltd., Boston, MA||Solo|
|1997||Théodore Géricault||The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC||Solo|
|1990||Gericault's Heroic Landscapes: The Times of Day||The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY||Solo|
|1987||Gericault||The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura, Kamakura||Solo|
|1972||Gericault||Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA||Solo|
|1972||Gericault||The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI||Solo|
|1971||Gericault||Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA||Solo|
|1960||Album of Drawings by Theodore Gericault||The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL||Solo|
|1937||Gericault, peintre et dessinateur (1791-1824)||Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris||Solo|
|1937||Paintings and Drawings by Theodore Gericault||The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH||Solo|
|1929||Gericault||Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA||Solo|
|1924||Oeuvre de Géricault||Galerie Charpentier, Paris||Solo|