Gericaults Raftas legacy in art and politics

Theodore Gericault’s greatest legacy as an artist is undoubtedly his Raft of the Medusa, completed in 1819. The painting is the comprehensive result of experiments with a variety of forms and styles; it marks the apogee of Gericault’s career. Beautiful and horrible, incidental and ubiquitous, monumental without a specific hero, The Raft of the Medusa was to the Salon of 1819 a complete paradox. The painting’s first critics were divided in their assessments by their political and artistic ideologies. Some critics at the painting’s initial exposition desired a picture more blatant in social criticism while others felt that the painting derided the very patriotism they felt needed protection. Artistically too Gericault’s masterwork was found to be an enigma. He followed no artistic school coherently and attempted a fusion of sorts that was unprecedented in his day. While such efforts did not popularize him with his Romantic contemporaries, Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa markedly began a new epoch in the evolution of art, that of innovation. Through his unique amalgamation of subject matter, contradictory styles, and the universality of his theme Gericault has produced in The Raft of the Medusa an integral part of art history.
Though initially Gericault may have been enticed by the political controversy of his subject, the theme of the painting did not equate that theme a polemicist would have chosen (Eitner 52). The painting depicts the actual tragedy of the French frigate, the Medusa, which three years earlier had foundered off the west coast of Africa. One hundred and fifty of the men on the ship had been forced to board an inadequate makeshift raft and were abandoned. For over two weeks the men were at sea. There they faced inclement weather, mutinous occurrences, the effects of starvation, and cannibalism. Of the one hundred and fifty, only fifteen would survive the ordeal. The political implica

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