The Raft of the Medusa and Two Naked Men

[Images: Nude Warrior with a Spear, Man Naked to the Waist, and The Raft of the Medusa]

French artist and lithographer Jean-Louis Andre Theodore Géricault (26 September 1791 – 26 January 1824) was born in Rouen, France. Géricault was one of the early pioneers of the Romantic Movement in art; and is best known for his work The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19, Louvre, Paris).

  • During his career, Géricault often painted military themes in his early paintings, however in The Raft of the Medusa, he depicted the aftermath of a contemporary French shipwreck, (The Meduse) where the ship’s captain had left his crew and passengers to die.
  • The Medusa was a French naval frigate that boasted 40 guns and fought in the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century. Remarkably, the ship survived these maritime battles only to crash on a sandbank in 1816 with over 150 soldiers on board, during an attempt to colonize Senegal.
  • This work became a national scandal, stemmed from its indictment of a corrupt establishment, and the dramatization on a more eternal theme; “man’s struggle with nature”.
  • Interestingly, one of the models who posed as one of the dying figures, was ‘artist-in-the-making’, a young Eugène Delacroix.

Amid the last days of his life, Géricault needed to have a tumour on his lower spine removed which was the consequence of three horse riding accidents that happened in the spring of 1822. Always intrigued by anatomy and ‘the body’ Géricault rejected the offer of surgical anaesthesia, so that he could see; with the guide of a mirror; the components of his body as the surgeon operated.  Needless to say, it was not long after this procedure that Géricault, weakened with illness, died on 26 January 1824.

  • His companion and admirer Ary Scheffer recorded the scene in his artistic creation The Demise of Gericault in 1824.

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