Romantic Art--2

[ Constable and Turner ] [Géricault and Delacroix ] [ Goya and Friedrich and Blake ]

Images of the Female in Western Art
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Théodore Géricault (1791-1824)
( 2012 )

Although Géricault studied under the tutelage of the rigid Neoclassicism prevalent at the time, his works favored "the dramatic presentation of contemporary events on huge canvases" (Tansey and Kleiner 941). His masterpiece, "The Raft of the Medusa" (1819,) reflects the influence of both Michelangelo and Rubens. He portrayed in this powerful rendering a true event, "the ordeal of the survivors of the French ship Medusa, which had foundered off the west coast of Africa, laden with Algerian immigrants" (491). He shows the frantic castaways desperately trying to signal a ship to rescue them. Fifteen survivors lived to tell a horrifying tale of murder, cannibalism, and unbearable hardship. When the true story of what happened on the Medusa emerged, it created a public scandal: the government tried to hush up the story of a captain and crew abandoning their passengers.

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A close examination of a detail of the painting shows the desperate effort to attract attention as well as corpses piled grotesquely on one another. Light shines on the back of the black man waving his shirt to the far away rescue ship. Géricault uses "shock" techniques to stun his viewer's sensibililty. He obsessively researched his subject to attain accuracy and verisimilitude, even interviewing whatever survivors of the tragedy he could. Géricault showed the painting at the 1819 Salon, where it won the gold medal, as well as creating the political scandal metioned above. The "idealized figures and realistically depicted agony" produced violent debates in painting circles, and had a "seminal influence on...the development of Romanticism " (Olga 1). The Medusa painting also embodied a critical, political statement--Géricault's opposition to the Bourbon Restoration and its corruption.

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Géricault was also fascinated by "mental aberration" (Tansey and Kleiner 942). As the later 19th Romantics explored "the irregular and the abandoned,...derangement and death," Géricault, too, worked to portray the "inner storms that overthrow rationality" (942). He studied the inmates of institutions and hospitals for the criminally insane, as this "Portrait of an Insane Woman" (1822) attests.

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Like other Romantic artists, Géricault "believed imagery should present situations, states of suffering, and outrage in forms that were extreme and compelling..." (artchive 1). He juxtaposed images of dramatic grandeur with despair and agony, as seen in his "Portrait of an Insane Man." Before his death in 1824, he painted a series of portraits of the insane, exploring the nature of their affliction and his own interest in psychological discomfort.

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Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)

"No other painter of the time explored the domain of Romantic subject and mood as thoroughly
and definitively as Delacroix, and none matched his style and content. Delacroix's technique--
impetuous, improvisional, and instinctive...epitomizes Romantic-colorist painting..."
(Tansey and Kleiner 948) He "drew on images from the past...[and]...also used study poses and gestures..." (Witt, et al. 306)He was an artist of passion,
as were some of his closest friends, George Sand and Frédéric Chopin.

Art critics and historians praise Delacroix for his "celebration of the imagination" (Tansey and Kleiner 943). As indicated above, Delacroix knew Géricault and admired his emotional power, its "sublimity" (944). He even posed for one of the figures in the Medusa painting. Delacroix worked to combine that quintessential Romantic value--imagination--(that which could inflame the viewer) with the more mundane necessity for an artist, disciplined skill. Like both David and Géricault, Delacroix painted real and imaginary human events, "story pictures," designed to "electrify" those who saw them. Some of his subject matter dealt with current political events that engrossed his own attention, such as the Greek struggle for independence from the Ottomans. He entered "The Massacre at Chios" in the Salon in 1824. Its vivid color and strong emotional content described an incident in which 20,000 Greeks were killed by the Turks on the island of Chios.

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Clearly, Delacroix sympathized with the Greeks, a sentiment popular with many young French and English Romantics at that time. Some critics decried the painting's despairing tone, e.g. " infant clutching its dead mother's breast..." ("Eugene Delacroix"). His graphic depiction of suffering without heroism (as in "The Oath of the Horatii") was highly controversial. Nevertheless, "The Massacre at Chios" established Delacroix" as the foremost Neo-Baroque Romantic painter" (Janson 481). It literally made his reputation. It should remind you of Turner's "Slave Ship" in its emotional power.

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The Delacroix work most familiar to AP Euro students is "Liberty Leading the People" (1830.) It may or not be the "July Revolution" of 1830 (though it probably was, also commemorated in Les Mis) but it portrayed, in any event, a powerful allegory of Revolution! "Liberty, a majestic, partly nude woman, whose beautiful features wear an expression of noble dignity, waves the people forward to the barricades..." that became familiar features of revolutionary Paris after the Prairial Uprising of 1795 (Tansey and Kleiner (946). Note that Liberty is wearing the "phrygian cap." She is accompanied by a pistol-toting street urchin, an armed dandy in top hat, a proletaire (the sans-culottes of '89,) and a multitude of less clearly defined figures. The influence of Géricault should be evident in the sprawling bodies and dramatic presentation. "The flashes of light suggest gunfire, while the intermingling of light and shadow echoes the confusion of battle..." (946). Although the French government purchased the painting, they withheld it from public view as they "deemed its glorification of liberty too inflammatory..." ("Eugene Delacroix").

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Follow link for "Do you hear the people sing" from production of Les Miz
an Edward Lloyd Webber musical that commemorated the July Revolution

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Or, a dramatization rather than a concert
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"To the Barricades" < >

Unfinished portraits of George Sand and Frédéric
George Sand and Frédéric Chopin--leading Romantic figures in their own right--
were close friends of Delacroix. He painted an unfinished "double portrait" of
them in 1838, which was subsequently cut in half. Gifted in portraiture, Delacroix
remains most famous, at least to Americans, for the paintings above.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY (incomplete)

"Eugène Delacroix." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online Available.

"Eugène Delacroix." Olga's Gallery. Online Available.
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Janson, H. W. History of Art. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963.

Pioch, Nicholas. "Eugène Delacroix." WebMuseum, Paris. Online Available.
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"Théodore Géricault." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online Available.

Witt, Mary Ann, et al. The Humanities, vol ii, 5th edition. Boston and New York:
Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997.