The Raft of the Medusa (real cannibals), 1818

Audio Guide# 2375

original title at end

by Théodore GÉRICAULT (Rouen, 1791 - Paris, 1824), Salon de 1819

Denon wing, 1st floor, Mollien, Room 77

The Raft of the Medusa, 1818

Raft is a large, important French Romantic painting based on a scandal.  In 1816, an idiot captain shipwrecked a French frigate (a small, fast warship) on a sandbar. 150 people got on a makeshift raft and promptly started dining on one another. With wine. They were French. The weak were thrown overboard. 13 days later, a ship passed by in the distance (circled in red above). Raft shows this cruel moment: some desperately wave cloth-like flags, one cries for his dead son, others sit hopelessly on a pedestal of corpses (their dinners). The ship returned but only 10 survived.

Composition & Era: Romantic era paintings were poetic, emotional, powerful works that freely used brushed, soft colors instead of the precise drawings of the neoclassical school. The bodies are in chiaroscuro, a high contrast of light and dark popularized by Caravaggio, a 1600s painter, brawler and murderer with a pope-issued death warrant on his head.

The action stuff is in triangles (see above). European art loves flags, triangles, corpses and pedestals (fancy name: plinths)!

The master: Géricault, only 27 years old, researched meticulously, talked to survivors and went to the morgue to see and paint corpses. The result shocked people; the pile of corpses evoked admiration or disgust and it was the star of the Salon of 1819, a yearly art competition.

"Extra! Extra!" (optional)

Meanwhile... Spain and Portugal were booted out of South America, Napoleon lost to Russia, then lost to the Brits in Waterloo... the Brits created Singapore, Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein were published and Antarctica was discovered.

Dead man posing: Géricault may have used his buddy Delacroix, also a famous painter, as a model for the dead guys. As usual, art experts have debated this for centuries... and gotten paid for it.

Delacroix's Liberty

It inspired Delacroix's amazing painting right here in this room, Liberty leading the people, star of the 1830 Salon, which itself inspired the Statue of Liberty (1875) and Victor Hugo's book Les Miserables that then inspired the eponymous Broadway musical Les Mis^ 162 years later AND two bad Hollywood knock-offs starring Liam Neeson (1998) and Hugh Jackman (2012). No musicals about Lady Liberty exist. Yet. What does exist is the 1/6 scale original model of her in the awesome Arts et Métiers^ science museum, just 20 minutes by foot -- you should go!

How many triangles do you see? Only two are marked.

Department of Paintings: French painting (oil)

(in French: Le Radeau de la Méduse)
References: Wikipedia, Louvre