Sunday, March 1, 2015

Jean Louis Théodore Géricault (Part two)

The romanticist-style artist Géricault was able to bond with the type of men he enjoyed painting: unpretentious masculine fellows from everyday life, which is probably why he was so successful in persuading these common gents to pose for him nude. The artist clearly had an appreciation for life and respected the actions required of brave men put into severe situations.  This was best highlighted in 1818, when Géricault began work on what was to become his largest and best known composition, the Raft of the Medusa. 
The subject of the painting was an actual event from 1816, which had captured the public's attention and gossip and disgust:  A raft with survivors from the sunken frigate Medusa was recovered after 12 days of unspeakable agony on the sea, with only 15 of the original 149 passengers originally on the raft still alive.  Those who survived endured starvation and dehydration and practiced cannibalism.  Blame was put on the incompetent captain who owed his job to his allegiance to the French monarchy.  Géricault captured the unequal struggle of man against nature, and sadly, of man against man.  There is no celebration of the nude male in this painting, where male nudity is used to show the pure exhaustion of the body in contrast to the strength of the spirit. 
The Getty Museum notes that "Géricault's fiery, daring personality and short life fit the mold of Romantic artists of his era and, along with his controversial paintings, profoundly influenced nineteenth-century art" and we agree.  The artist led a complicated life and there's much we don't know.  We do know that he sired a child which was the result of an affair with his young aunt (He fled Versailles when he discovered that she was pregnant).  He traveled to Florence, Rome, and Naples for several years and enthralled himself in Italian life.  The artist painted what he was interested in (which included a lot of handsome naked men, in deliberately placed poses which forces viewers of the paintings to admire raw male beauty and sexuality) and was one of the pioneers of the Romantic movement.  Géricault himself was considered to have been emotionally fragile, yet (or maybe because of his own situation was inspired to) painted a series capturing the haunting realist studies of asylum inmates.  In a relatively short lifetime this artist managed to accomplish much.  Most of his work is now in the Louvre.

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