The Raft of the Medusa, Géricault, 1818-1819  thumbnail

The Raft of the Medusa, Géricault, 1818-1819

18 apr 2024 7:19 pm


The Raft of the Medusa, originally titled Scène de Naufrage (Shipwreck Scene), is a renowned masterpiece created by the French Romantic artist Théodore Géricault (1791–1824). Completed in 1818–19 when Géricault was just 27 years old, this monumental oil painting measuring 491 by 716 cm (16 ft 1 in by 23 ft 6 in) has become an enduring symbol of French Romanticism.

The painting depicts a harrowing moment following the wreck of the French naval frigate Méduse, which occurred on July 2, 1816, off the coast of present-day Mauritania. After the ship ran aground, at least 147 individuals were cast adrift on a hastily constructed raft. Tragically, all but 15 perished in the 13 days preceding their rescue, with the survivors enduring starvation, dehydration, and resorting to cannibalism. The incident sparked international outrage, partly due to the perceived incompetence of the French captain.

Géricault deliberately chose this gripping subject to launch his career, captivated by its public intrigue. Prior to creating the final painting, he conducted extensive research, including interviews with survivors and the construction of a detailed scale model of the raft. His commitment to realism led him to visit hospitals and morgues to observe firsthand the colors and textures of dying and deceased flesh.

Upon its unveiling at the 1819 Paris Salon, The Raft of the Medusa provoked intense reactions, earning both fervent praise and condemnation. Nevertheless, it catapulted Géricault to international acclaim and is now recognized as a seminal work in the early stages of the Romantic movement in French art.

Despite retaining elements of traditional history painting, Géricault's masterpiece represents a departure from the serenity of Neoclassical conventions, embracing dramatic intensity and raw emotion. Its influence reverberated throughout the art world, inspiring subsequent generations of artists such as Eugène Delacroix, J. M. W. Turner, Gustave Courbet, and Édouard Manet.

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