Gericault, Theodore

1791-1824

 

Gericault, Theodore

French painter, perhaps the most influential artist of his time, and a seminal figure of the 19th-century romantic movement in art.
Gericault, born into a wealthy Rouen family, studied with the French painters Carle Vernet and Pierre Guerin and also traveled to Italy to study from 1816 to 1817. Gericault was greatly influenced by the work of Michelangelo and other Italian Renaissance painters, as well as that of the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens. Early in his career, Gericault's paintings began to exhibit qualities that set him apart from such neoclassical French painters as Jacques-Louis David. Gericault soon became the acknowledged leader of the French romantics. His Charging Chasseur (1812, Louvre, Paris) and Wounded Cuirassier (1814, Louvre) display violent action, bold design, and dramatic color, and evoke powerful emotion. These characteristics appeared in heightened form in his immense and overpowering canvas Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819, Louvre), showing the dying survivors of a contemporary shipwreck. The oil painting's disturbing combination of idealized figures and realistically depicted agony, as well as its gigantic size and graphic detail, aroused a storm of controversy between neoclassical and romantic artists. Its depiction of a politically volatile scandal (the wreck was due to government mismanagement) also caused controversy.
In 1820 Gericault traveled to England, where he painted his Race for the Derby at Epsom (Louvre). At the time of his death, Gericault was engaged in painting a series of portraits of mental patients that demonstrate the preoccupation of the romantic artists with derangement and neurosis. Among his other works are a number of bronze statuettes, a superb series of lithographs, and hundreds of drawings and color sketches.

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