“Raft” Medusa “” Theodore Gericault
The artist Theodore Gericault, the founder of romanticism in France, became famous for a number of works, and especially the painting “The Jellyfish Raft”. She became no less famous than Rembrandt’s Night Watch, The Oath of the Horatii of David, and Boyary Morozov of Surikov. The artist masterfully expressed in her deep reflections on the fate of people, by force of circumstances set to the brink of destruction, could say weighty words about modernity. That is why the historian of the middle of the last century, Jules Michelet, recalling the picture, said the right words: “I said and repeat again: at that moment Gericault was France.”
In November 1817, shortly after the return of Gericault from Italy, the book The Death of the Medusa Frigate was published in Paris. Its authors narrated the tragic accident in the ocean. An expedition of four ships was sent to Senegal, carrying soldiers, the new governor of the colony, and officials with their families. During the storm, the escort ships lagged behind the frigate, and the Medusa stranded off the west coast of Africa and sank. To save the crew, a raft was built, which was towed by boats to the coast, which was relatively close. However, the crew of the boats, which housed the highest authorities, frightened the storm and cut the tow ropes. A raft with 150 sailors and soldiers was thrown into the open ocean. Thirteen days it was carried among waves, no more than ten people survived. Many died of exhaustion, others were washed away by the waves, some died in the battle for the remnants of food or went crazy. Responsibility for the tragedy fell on the commander of the expedition, who received this appointment under the patronage of the king.
The catastrophe off the coast of Africa has attracted wide public attention not only the fatal consequences of what happened. The opposition blamed the political regime of the Restoration for the catastrophe after the fall of Napoleon’s empire. The conclusion was clear: the Bourbon government patronized the aristocrats, disregarding the interests of the nation. The story of the death of the frigate “Medusa” could not but worry Gericault. His belief in human dignity was offended, and hatred of the existing regime received another confirmation.
We should not think that Gericault would only translate the contents of the book into the language of painting. With all that he knew her almost by heart, she served only as an impulse for a great independent work. Jericho began to look for meetings with the participants of the event, who survived. This was the way the artist developed a special method: re-creating the event. Using the power of imagination, re-reading the documents, talking to witnesses, the artist gradually created his own model of the situation, bringing it as close as possible to reality.
Jericho met with the authors of the book “The death of the frigate Medusa”. A carpenter from Medusa, at his request, performed a reduced copy of the raft. The artist made wax figures of people and arranged them as if they were real characters of the tragedy. He goes to the seashore to write several sketches with waves and a stormy sky. Finally he visits the hospital morgues of Paris, paints and paints the bodies of the dead, talks with the doctors, learning about the consequences of deprivation and their effect on the human body. All this took the artist to be truthful in the transfer of the tragic event.
Over one hundred studies relate to the preparatory period for the creation of the painting “The Raft“ Medusa ”. Here and runaway sketches with a pen, and elaborately built gouaches, and Picturesque sketches, and several sculptural groups. Initially, Zheriko was overwhelmed with various ideas, through many trials he came to a final decision. The artist was least attracted by the image of the scene of salvation, for the meaning of the tragedy would remain unclear with such a decision.
Of great importance was the work on the scenes of the battle on the raft. Perhaps there was a moment when the artist believed that this particular story would be final. Géricault shows a half-sunken raft amid raging waves, athletically folded people fight for the best place near the mast with a sail, for drinking water, food. Axes, sabers flash, some fall into the water, a group of people are seen, either already completely desperate, or pleading heaven. But all this does not mean a sad outcome, and therefore the painter refuses this decision.
He is fascinated by the new theme: waiting for the saving ship by those who survived. So composite searches came to the end. In the tragic story one moment is highlighted, when it is still unclear, vague. Piles of corpses, scenes of agony, crazy faces, timid hope. As if a miracle arose on the horizon, the silhouette of the ship-savior, and the magical power made several people jump up, who have the mind and the will.