Théodore Géricault was an influential painter and lithographer born in France. Credited as one of the founders of the artistic Romantic movement alongside Eugéne Delacroix, he was perceived as passionate and bold as his works. Apart from being known as an avid horseman and a sharp dresser, here are the following facts:
1. He did not always want to be a painter.
- Géricault was forced by his father to take up painting in Paris, despite his wishes to enter the monastery.
- Though he was under the tutelage of popular Neoclassical painters, he was mostly self-taught and spent three years copying in the Louvre.
2. Géricault had a great love for horses and riding.
- His first teacher in painting was primarily a horse painter.
- Géricault died at the young age of 32 due to successive riding accidents and neglect of his own health.
3. His choice of subject matter pioneered Romanticism in art.
- Instead of classical themes and historical events, Géricault focused on present topics, such as horse races, politics, and mental illness.
- His paintings emphasize on the individual and emotional rawness, further highlighting the Romantic themes of man’s self-realization and his role in nature.
4. Géricault’s painting technique also focuses on individuality.
- He gave each part of his paintings the appearance of being its own miniature composition. Instead of sketching and painting the composition as a whole, he would fully complete each element before working on the next part of the canvas.
- To further emphasize individual immediacy, Géricault painted in precise, fluid strokes using small brushes, allowing only little room for correction.
5. He went to great lengths to create his masterpiece, “The Raft of the Medusa,” a painting based on the Medusa shipwreck.
- Géricault used real corpses as his reference for the dead bodies lying on the raft.
- He shaved his head to force himself to remain in his studio as he worked.
6. Géricault received differing reactions across the English channel.
- He faced heavy criticism from the French government for his macabre depiction of the shipwreck and its scandalous political implications.
- Géricault was warmly received in England where 40,000 people paid to view “The Raft of Medusa,” sealing his success as a painter.
7. He was one of the first artists to use lithography.
- Géricault was partly inspired by genre paintings and produced a series of 13 plates on the life of the English working class.
- In “The Epsom Derby,” he gave the impression of movement and speed by depicting horses fully stretched in gallop. This style wasn’t seen again until around 50 years later.
8. Géricault painted a portrait series of asylum inmates.
- He produced 10 paintings, each depicting a psychotic condition such as monomania, kleptomania, and delusion.
- His paintings were the first in art history to treat insanity as an illness instead of something humorous.
Despite his early death, Géricault’s life has been one of innovation and change. His works of raw empathy and emotional brutality have earned him a lasting legacy and made homes in many of the best art museums around the world.