History : May-Jun 2016
14 MAY/JUNE 2016 MILESTONES Géricault’s work is based on true events that took place in 1816, one year after the final defeat of Napoleon. The empire established by Napoleon ended, and the French Bourbon dynasty had been restored under King Louis XVIII. The naval frigate Méduse set sail from near Bordeaux, as part of a flotilla headed for Saint-Louis in Senegal, where it was to carry out a vital mission for the newly restored royal government. T héodore Géricault was only 27 when he finished his monumental work,“The Raft of the Medusa.” The horrific painting provoked political outcry and public soul-searching after its premiere at the Louvre in August 1819. Its unflinching depiction of starvation and death, as well as its underlying commen- tary on the political system that then con- trolled France, caused a scandal. Ship of Fools The French fleet’s mission was to regain control of former African territories. The passengers included soldiers and civil servants, as well as several scien- tists carrying observation equipment. Also on board was Col. Julien Schmaltz, whom King Louis XVIII had just appoint- ed as governor of Senegal. The Méduse was under the command of Hugues Du- roy de Chaumareys, a former exile and Louder Than Words: “The Raft of the Medusa” When Géricault’s Romantic masterpiece debuted almost 200 years ago, it caused an uproar. This harrowing depiction of shipwreck survivors, now hung in the Louvre Museum in Paris, was seen as an attack on elitism and incompetence, and a potent symbol of the human condition. A FLOATING HELL This preliminary sketch for Théodore Géricault’s painting “The Raft of the Medusa,” depicts the moment the starving castaways spot the ship that will save them.