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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.
REFERENCESZheriko 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