The Raft of the Medusa (Le Radeau de la Méduse)
This painting is The Raft of the Medusa (Le Radeau de la Méduse) by Théodore Géricault. It was painted between 1818 and 1819, when he was 27 years old. Its dimensions are 491 cm x 716 cm and it´s an oil painting on canvas. It provoked fascination in the 1819 Paris Salon and the Louvre Museum bought it. At the moment, The Raft of the Medusa is exhibited in the Painting Department of the Louvre.
On this painting you can see the unfortunate shipwreck of the Méduse, a French ship. The people are in a raft struggling to survive. Some of them are dead and the others are surprised because they have seen a ship in the distance and they are trying to attract its attention. There are some big waves around them and the weather is very bad. The wind is blowing and it moves the sail of the boat. We can also see a person holding a corpse. He is wearing a red fabric over his body and his expression makes us think about the torture of that moment. It´s not a very colorful painting, but it represents the moment very well.
The painting refers to a real shipwreck occurred on the 5th of July 1816 in Mauritania. The French navy frigate ran aground off the coast near Mauritania when they wanted to colonize Senegal. In that ship, there were 400 passengers, including Captain Julien-Désiré Schamltz and his wife Reine Schalmtz. After the collision, the survivors were distributed into six boats, but there was not enough space and 147 persons were piled on a raft. 132 of them died at the sea and only 15 survived. The survivors had to resist hunger, thirst and cannibalism. They endured 13 days at sea until they were rescued on the 18th of July of that year by the Argus, another ship. After that, they were taken to a French hospital. They tried to reform their lives, but some of them couldn´t, due to their consistent fear to life. Théodore Géricault became interested in this history when he read a book about it. The painter started the painting with some sketches and he built a model of the raft in his studio, to make it as real as possible.
Model of The Raft of the Medusa during the crew rescue.
This painting was an international scandal, because it reflects the incompetence of the French captain during the restored French Monarchy. The classicists criticized the painting as a “pile of corpses” and they said that it didn´t represent the ideal of beauty of Romanticism. The author looked for the survivors to ask them and to know the color and the texture of their discolored hands (due to the shipwreck).
The painter made this painting following three lines: the boat, the background and the sea. He drew the boat and the distance ship shortly than the reality. As we can see, the wind blows in the opposite direction with respect to the ship in the distance. Géricault wanted to represent that the boat goes to the death and the survivors are doing the impossible to call the attention of the ship. They form two triangles covering all the space of the raft, which represents the madness and the despair of the survivors. The first triangle is made by most of the people and the sail of the boat and the second one is made by the people who are calling the ship in the distance.
The painter used the perspective in this painting to represent the vastness of the ocean. He represented the boat very small with respect to the ocean where they are. He also made this to represent all the people in the raft without any omission. For this painting, the author used dark colours to represent the dramatic situation they were going through. The contours of the figures are inaccurate.
This painting belongs to the Romantic Movement. Géricault used dramatic scenes and a break of the calm present in the Romantic style. His painting influenced artists such as Eugène Delacroix, J. M. W. Turner, Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet.
I like this painting because it represents the moment of the rescue very well. It has good colors and figures. It´s a very dramatic scene based on a real history and it´s like a photo taken in the middle of the sea in that moment.
Sources: For more information about the history and the type of painting.