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Jean-Louis-Andr?-Th?odore G?ricault, 1791-1824

Three Studies for Heads of Naval Officers (Self-Portraits) Preparatory Drawing for the "Mutiny"

Description:Read An Essay On This Drawing

Théodore Gericault sketched these three powerful heads in preparation for his monumental Raft of the Medusa (1819, Musée du Louvre), which electrified the public at the Salon of 1819. The Medusa was a French frigate captained by an incompetent aristocratic émigré, who ran the vessel aground in shallow water off the coast of West Africa in 1816 and then abandoned 149 men and one woman on a makeshift raft. Adrift for thirteen days, 135 individuals died, victims of exposure, insanity, murder, and cannibalism. Géricault, inspired by Alexandre Corréard's and Henri Savigny's eyewitness account Naufrage de la frégate Méduse (1817), worked through successive episodes in the disaster before choosing the sighting of the rescue ship for his definitive subject. Partisan criticism greeted the painting at the Salon, as liberals praised it and ultra royalists condemned it on political grounds.

fig 1, Théodore Géricault, Mutiny on the Raft, ca. 1818. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Fordor Collection, A. 10959.These three self-portraits belong to offcers in one of Géricault's early compositional ideas for Mutiny on the Raft, most fully realized in two drawings (ca. 1818, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts).1 Géricault conveyed various strong emotions elicited by these traumatic events through physiognomic expression, relying on the academic tradition of the tête d'expression (expressive head). Charles Le Brun codified the representation of the passions in the seventeenth century, and Géricault's busts very clearly relate Le Brun's visual prototypes.2 For instance, Géricault adopted Le Brun's image of Contemplation for the head on the left of his sheet, chose Pain as his model for the head on the right, and combined Fear and Disdain for the head at the bottom. Géricault emphasized the mouths, eyes, and eyebrows to communicate emotion, and expressed the dramatic nature of his faces with vigorous hatching and cross-hatching.

In the end, Géricault omitted these specific heads from his finished painting; instead, he translated some of their meaning onto his canvas. One contemporary critic underscored this transformation in his review of Raft of the Medusa: "On a raft that a wave is about to submerge, the painter collected the most revolting elements of despair, rage, hunger, agony, death, and even putrefaction, and he has executed them with an abundance of verve, a truth of form, a boldness of handling and of color that magnify their effect a hundredfold."3

In this sheet, Géricault depicted himself in contemplation, fear, and pain, and these three self-portraits are emblematic of his personal quest to understand the mind through facial expression. About the time he created this drawing, he also depicted the severed heads of guillotine victims and emphasized their anguished eyes and contorted mouths, which suggests that the human senses remained active for some time after decapitation and visually stated liberal arguments for abolition of the death penalty.4 Not long before his death in 1824, Géricault painted ten portraits of mentally ill men and women apparently in association with Dr. Etienne Georget, a pioneer in the new Weld of psychiatry, in an effort to understand the sufferings of patients through their disturbed physiognomies. John P. Lambertson

1. L. Eitner, "Géricault at Winterthur," Burlington Magazine 96 (August 1954): 259.

2 On Le Brun's theories and influence in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, see J. Montagu, The Expression of the Passions: The Origin and Influence of Charles Le Brun's "Conférence sur l'expression générale et particulière" (New Haven, 1994).

3. Le comte O'Mahoney, "Exposition des tableaux," Le Conservateur 5 (1819): 190: "Sur un radeau qu'une vague va submerger, le peintre a accumulé tout ce que le désespoir, la rage, la faim, l'agonie, la mort, la putréfaction même offrent de plus repoussant, et tout cela est a exécuté avec une surabondance de verve, une vérité de dessin, une énergie de touche, une hardiesse de pinceau et de couleur qui en centuple les épouvantables effects."

4. N. Athanassoglou-Kallmyer, "Géricault's Severed Heads and Limbs: The Politics and Aesthetics of the Scaffold," Art Bulletin 74 (December 1992): 599, 602.

Medium: Pen and iron gall ink over black crayon on brown, thin, smooth wove paper
Dimensions: Sheet: 212 x 263 mm.
Date: ca. 1818
Category: portrait
Subject: Sailors Man
Alternate Title: Study for the 'Raft of the Medusa' Trois t?tes de soldats T?tes de soldats Trois t?tes de marins
Inscriptions and Markings: RECTO: LL, graphite, 'Gericault'.
Exhibition History: Grand Palais, Paris, 'G?ricault', Oct. 10, 1991-Jan. 6, 1992, p. 380, no. 192, ill. p. 167. Baltimore Museum of Art, 'Master Drawings by French Artists in the Museum's Collection', May 14-July 23, 1989. Philippe Grunchec, International Exhibitions Foundation, Washington, D.C., 'Master Drawings by Gericault', p. 37 and 200, no. 69, ill. p.138; circulated to Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, June 7 - July 3, 985; San Diego Museum of Art, Aug. 3 - Oct. 20, 985; The Museum of Fine Arts , Houston, Nov. 9, 985 - Jan. 5, 986. Victor Carlson and Carol Hynning Smith, Baltimore Museum of Art, 'Master Drawings and Watercolors of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Aug. 979 - Aug. 980, p. 24, no. 5, ill. p. 25; circultaed by the American Foundation of Arts. Baltimore Museum of Art, 'Sketches and Sketchbook Pages', April 25 - June 25, 978. Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, London, '19th-Century French Drawings', May 9 - June 7, 977, p. 6, no. 3, plate no. 14. Bernheim-Jeune & Cie., Paris, 'Gros, G?ricault, Delacrois,' Jan. 954, no. 47. Kunstverein, Witerthur, 'Th?odore G?ricault', Aug. 30-Nov. 8, 953, no. 45. Galerie Dubourg, Paris, 'Quelques pr?curzeurs de l'art contemporain', May 7 - June 8, 95, no. 24
Bibliography: Baltimore Museum of Art Calendar (April 1978), cover. Ted Rose, Discovering Drawing, Worcester, MA: Davis Publications, 1995, p. 133. Lorenz Eitner, G?ricault's Raft of the Medusa, New York: Praeger, 1972, p. 152, no. 31.
Related Works: Two drawings: Title: The Mutiny on the Raft - one drawing is in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Fodor Collection (A.10959) and the drawing is in the collection of the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1943.824)
Provenance: BMA by purchase, 1977; Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, London; Palais Galliera, Dec. 7, 1976, no. 4; Galerie Brame; C?sar de Hauke (1900-1965), Paris, 1953; Boudot-Lamotte, Paris.
Collection: The Baltimore Museum of Art
Credit Line: The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund
Object Number: BMA 1977.44