Theodore Gericault was a 19th century French painter who helped pioneer the way for the Romantic style. When Gericault was studying as an art student in Paris the major artist movement of the time was Neoclassicism. However, Gericault did not favor this new movement with its classical roots and structural form. Instead, he preferred the works of such artists as Rubens, Titian, Velazquez and Rembrandt, all of whose works he copied and studied at the Louvre.
One of Gericault’s most famous paintings is The Raft of the Medusa. This painting depicts a scene of the aftermath of the shipwreck of the Medusa, a contemporary event covered my many newspapers of the day. The wreck of the French ship the Medusa was a national scandal, the captain having abandoned his crew and passengers to die and escaping the fatal wreck himself. This famous painting addressed several issues. On one level it was a simple rendition of a nation tragedy. On another level the painting received much attention for the fact that it was an indictment of the corrupt system that led such an inexperienced sailor to the position of captain when he clearly didn’t deserve such a position. But it is also a dramatization of the struggle of man against nature and it is this which remains the heart of the work. This is a painting that not only excites the modern viewer with the harshness of the shipwrecked sailors on the tiny raft but also those of Gericault’s own day – one of whom was a very young Eugene Delacroix, another Romantic painter, who posed for one of the dying men aboard the raft.
Gericault also painted a long series of portraits which were a bit unconventional at the time. He would paint people with known mental afflictions, people who were commonly considered insane. All of them were patients of a good friend Gericault’s, the Dr. Etienne-Jean Georget, who was a pioneer in the field of psychiatric medicine. One of these portraits is Man with Delusions of Military Command. An elderly gentleman in military garb sits against a plain, black background. His lips are drawn and pierced. Wide eyes look off to the right of the painting at something that the viewer cannot see. He looks just a tad too thin, the clothes he wears just a bit too big for him as if he has lost muscle mass in his old age or had lost much weight since the last time had put them on.Gericault was a great artist who paved the way for slightly younger artists such as Delacroix bring the young Romantic Movement to new life. A celebrated artist in his own time, Gericault is still a prominent artist from the early modern era of painting.