Théodore Géricault was born September 26, 1791 in Rouen, France. He began his artistic education under Carle Vernet before attending the Louvre where he studied works by Rembrandt and Velasquez, among others. Gericault became a pioneer in the growing Romantic Movement. Like the basic ideals of Romanticism, Gericault’s work reflected suffering and outrage expressed through the use of light and dark colors accompanied by dramatic movement (Gowing, artchive.com).
Gericault’s most famous work is The Raft of Medusa. At 193.3 x 282.3 inches, the painting depicts the wreck of the French ship Medusa and its survivors. Gericault’s masterpiece was driven by political disgust. The ship’s captain had been inexperienced but a well-connected supporter of the government’s aristocracy(www.louvre.fr). Due to an extreme shortage of lifeboats, 149 people piled onto a raft that would drift for twelve days. In the end, only fifteen survived. In those 12 days, madness and death were followed by cannibalism as a means of survival. There is no one focal point, rather the subject is generalized and the strength of humanity becomes the centerpiece (www.louvre.fr).
Gericault’s life was short, living only 32 years. However, in that short period he was able to produce some of the most influential pieces of the Romantic period. His art spoke out against the political repression that engulfed France at the time. He revealed this social imbalance through painful and dramatic expression in his painting. His subjects were often those forgotten or rejected by society. Some of his final pieces were a series of the mentally ill. These smaller works capture the normality and strangeness that coincide in the faces of the individuals.
Gericault had lengthy goals as an artist, but a tumor in his spine and a growing infection eventually led to his premature death. Gericault died dissatisfied with his life. He’d had hopes of painting entire rooms like his artistic idols. Even when asked about his Medusa he seemed disappointed. However, his artistic drive endured until his last moments as he drew and painted even on his deathbed (Eitner, 273).
Question: Gericault's works focused primarily on contemporary issues. How do you think early 19th century art compares to television today as a method for social commentary?