The Raft of the Medusa 2020
My recent works for Drawing Now 2020 are inspired by the painting of Théodore Géricault, “The Raft of the Medusa” (1819). His magnificent painting – created exactly two hundred years ago- has the aspects to be subjectively, politically, and symbolically. For me, the idea was to transfer the painting in a drawing process. It does not only copy the original, particularly the moment of revent, and to go deeper into the details. To use a single segment and arrange then in a new composition of themes as a disaster, brutality, survive, tragedy, hope, and death.
The inspiration was the true story of the tragedy, and the implement in nowadays with all boats trying to reach Europe’s cost from Africa.
Today, it could be read as a disturbing reminder of capsized vessels that have spilled hundreds of migrants into the Mediterranean Sea and of the grim reality of the current refugee crisis at large.
For me every single segment of the painting, the bodies, the sea, the sky, the raft, and the sail, etc. are elements with huge response and intension.
The question was, how do they communicate with each other if I remove it from the position. How can I use this big intension in a small format of drawing?
I saw the painting for the first time ten years ago and for me is one of the best and impactful images of the history of art.
It deals with a case of cannibalism, which, against the background of the Enlightenment, shook French society. As a fundamental breach of civilization.
About the story
The painting depicts a moment of hope in the tragic saga of the Medusa, a French Royal naval ship that broke apart off the coast of West Africa in 1816 while on a mission to retake Senegal from the British after the Napoleonic Wars. After hitting a sandbar, the French captain filled the limited lifeboats with officers, politicians, and others deemed worthy of rescue and then ordered a raft to be constructed for the 147 remaining men (and one woman)—including many Algerian immigrants—from the wood scraps of the sinking vessel. Lifeboats briefly towed the raft until, in an infamous act of cowardice and cruelty, the captain cut it loose to hasten the rescue of the men on the boats. When the raft was found 13 days later, only 15 of the 147 had survived.
The Raft of the Medusa was not only one of the first paintings created without a commission but was also one of the first paintings of the Romantic Movement. The shipwreck was contemporary, and it is the first time you see a French artist being critical of the regime. If you read first the story of Medusa, you expect to see malnourished and skinny bodies fighting for life. He painted idealized, muscular bodies, which are a strong contradiction to how men truly looked. The sky and the water are also definitely Romantic as they depict drama, shadow, and light.
The radical composition and one polarizing element is one dark-skinned figure -“mules” being on atop of a Piramide. But Gericault, as the Raft depicts, did place his hopes in a man of color, a black man, a “pariah”. Given the fact that most whites in Louis XVIII’s day considered black less than human–their place.
That was very provocative and invited derision.
As one critic, Kenneth Clark states, The Raft of the Medusa “remains the chief example of Romantic pathos expressed through the nude; and that obsession with death, which drove Géricault to frequent mortuary chambers and places of public execution, gives truth to his figures of the dead and dying. Their outlines may be taken from the classics, but they have been seen again with a craving for violent experience.
Graphite and Color pencil drawings on Velin d‘Arches and Rives paper.
Exhibition view Gallery Heike Curtze, 2020, Vienna, Austria