Théodore Géricault

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Géricault, Théodore

 

Born Sept. 26, 1791, in Rouen; died Jan. 26, 1824, in Paris. French painter and graphic artist.

Géricault studied with C. Vernet (1808-10) and P. Guérin (1810-11) and was influenced by A. Gros. Although he retained classical art’s predilection for generalized heroic images, Géricault was the first French artist to express the essence of romanticism—an acute awareness of the conflicts in the world and a striving to embody in his works extraordi-nary contemporary events and strong passions. Even his first works were distinguished by their highly emotional images and dynamic composition and color, with the dominant dark tone made more lively by intense color accents and strong impasto brush strokes. They reflected the turbulence of the Napoleonic wars, with their desperate bravado (Officer of the Imperial Guard, 1812, the Louvre), as well as a sense of bewilderment and tragic ending (The Wounded Cuiraissier, 1814, the Louvre). During his travels in Italy (1816-17), Gericault was influenced by classic art, particularly Michelangelo. The images in his works became more generalized and monumental, their delineation clearer (The Run of Free Horses at Rome, 1817, the Louvre).

One of Gericault’s masterpieces and a major romantic painting is the Raft of the Medusa (1818-19, the Louvre), which depicts an extremely topical subject—the tragic fate of most of the passengers of the frigate Medusa, who perished on a raft in the ocean through the government’s fault. The painting had great social impact. Endowing an accident with symbolic meaning, Gericault reveals the complex spectrum of human feelings—from dark despair to an explosive burst of hope. The dynamics of the huge canvas is determined by the diagonal composition, the energetic modeling of powerful spaces, and the tense contrasts of light and dark.

The Portrait of Delacroix at Twenty (c. 1819, Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics, Rouen) and the self-portraits ex-press Géricault’s view of a romantic artist as an independent emotional personality. The objective portraits of the insane (c. 1822), which depict the destructive influence of passions, reflect the artist’s genuine humanism.

Géricault was impressed by the unique outlook and customs of England, where he traveled between 1820 and 1821. In rich, subtly colored paintings and watercolors and in lithographs (the Great and Small English Series, 1820-21) he painted scenes of the people’s way of life, showing social contrasts with pitiless truthfulness, as well as scenes of horse races (The Derby at Epsom, 1821, the Louvre). In the severe, lonely Kiln (1822, the Louvre), the motif of a humdrum life is the pretext for a romantically intense embodiment of the world’s materiality. Géricault was one of the pioneers of lithography. Some of his sculptures have also been preserved.

REFERENCES

Zheriko o sebe i sovremenniki o nem. Moscow, 1962. (Translated from French.)
Prokofev, V. N. Teodor Zheriko. Moscow, 1963.
Berger, K. Gericault et son oeuvre. Paris, 1968.

V. S. TURCHIN

References in periodicals archive ?
Among other things, it was in Guerin's studio that Delacroix first met the ill-fated Theodore Gericault (1791-1824), whose dramatic subject matter and correspondingly dramatic sense of composition were a revelation.
He died two years before David, only a year before Gericault came to his premature end.
To understand his project means thinking him as part of a constellation that includes William Blake, Gericault, Toussaint-Louverture, Marx, Melville, Balzac, Robert Owen, and others--individuals who, within the vertiginous falling away of familiar stabilities and certainties, saw revelatory flashes of what would (or could) follow in the wake of a new universal humanity on the one hand and the invisible and deracinated powers of capital on the other.
Moreover, Gericault drew the things he took most seriously in life--horses, battle, death and sex--and sought through his drawings to work out the internal contradictions of style that made his own artistic personality so difficult and that defined the polarities of nineteenth-century art in France.
This is the first solo show in Germany of works by the French painter Theodore Gericault.
It happens to be a salient example, too, in relation to New York-based artist Yuri Masnyj, whose work engages the recycling of cultural material, whether of a Gericault painting, a Cubist assemblage, or an Eames stool.
Here, the artist trains his eye on the woman's bustling skirts and bonnet, and this elegant, understated study shows Gericault experimenting with simple lines and blocks of colour, honing his skills for the considerably more expressive Romantic paintings for which he is renowned.
We might draw art-historical connections to the assisted readymades and tableaux of Duchamp (especially Etant donnes), the paradoxical illusions of image and space in Magritte, as well as to various biblical representations (Gober featured a Virgin with a drainage pipe cut through her middle in his 1997 installation at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art), the Bacchus of Caravaggio (recalled by the bowls of fruit), the severed body parts painted by Gericault, and so on.
These portraits suggest an art-historical might-have-been, a type of British portraiture that didn't develop--fresh, painterly, realist and more like the portraiture of later 19th-century French painters such as Gericault, Corot or Courbet.
He goes on to evoke art-historical precedents for this ad campaign's style and composition, citing Jeff Wall, Gericault, and Delacroix, concluding his initial salvo with Tony Soprano as the mainstream avatar of the grotesque, a sociopathic killer you can't help but love: "Tony is the Devil and these are his works.