1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Géricault, Jean Louis André Théodore

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 11
Géricault, Jean Louis André Théodore

GÉRICAULT, JEAN LOUIS ANDRÉ THÉODORE (1791–1824), French painter, the leader of the French realistic school, was born at Rouen in 1791. In 1808 he entered the studio of Charles Vernet, from which, in 1810, he passed to that of Guérin, whom he drove to despair by his passion for Rubens, and by the unorthodox manner in which he persisted in interpreting nature. At the Salon of 1812 Géricault attracted attention by his “Officier de Chasseurs à Cheval” (Louvre), a work in which he personified the cavalry in its hour of triumph, and turned to account the solid training received from Guérin in rendering a picturesque point of view which was in itself a protest against the cherished convictions of the pseudo-classical school. Two years later (1814) he re-exhibited this work accompanied with the reverse picture “Cuirassier blessé” (Louvre), and in both subjects called attention to the interest of contemporary aspects of life, treated neglected types of living form, and exhibited that mastery of and delight in the horse which was a feature of his character. Disconcerted by the tempest of contradictory opinion which arose over these two pictures, Géricault gave way to his enthusiasm for horses and soldiers, and enrolled himself in the mousquetaires. During the Hundred Days he followed the king to Bethune, but, on his regiment being disbanded, eagerly returned to his profession, left France for Italy in 1816, and at Rome nobly illustrated his favourite animal by his great painting “Course des Chevaux Libres.” Returning to Paris, Géricault exhibited at the Salon of 1819 the “Radeau de la Méduse” (Louvre), a subject which not only enabled him to prove his zealous and scientific study of the human form, but contained those elements of the heroic and pathetic, as existing in situations of modern life, to which he had appealed in his earliest productions. Easily depressed or elated, Géricault took to heart the hostility which this work excited, and passed nearly two years in London, where the “Radeau” was exhibited with success, and where he executed many series of admirable lithographs now rare. At the close of 1822 he was again in Paris, and produced a great quantity of projects for vast compositions, models in wax, and a horse écorché, as preliminary to the production of an equestrian statue. His health was now completely undermined by various kinds of excess, and on the 26th of January 1824 he died, at the age of thirty-three.

Géricault’s biography, accompanied by a catalogue raisonné of his works, was published by M. C. Clément in 1868.