50) The Raft of the Medusa by Theodore Gericault 1791-1824
Gericault spent six years copying paintings at the Louvre and brought the influence of Rubens to a new romantic style of painting.
The Raft of the Medusa depicts an actual contemporary incident,
a French frigate was run onto a bar by an incompetent captain. The passengers and the crew built a raft and were abandoned to die at sea by the ships boats who were to have been towing them.
One hundred and forty six men and one woman were on the raft with no means of steering and few provisions. Most of the deck of the raft was underwater. The first night turned to bedlam and at least twenty men were killed. Over the next several days the weather grew worse and the passengers of the raft fought each other for survival in the center of the raft and were killed or washed overboard. By the end of the fourth day less than half of their number were still alive and after that the weak and injured were thrown overboard. Twelve days later the raft was found by another ship. with fifteen men still alive on board. Five of those died immediately after their rescue. Out of one hundred and forty seven who embarked on the raft only ten survived.
The incident became a national scandal after the French government tried to hush it up. The captain was tried and served three years in jail.
Painted in 1819 the picture was exhibited and was both controversial and a sensation. Five years later Gericault was dead at age thirty three of tuberculosis. The painting was made using a lot of a pigment called bitumin. Bitumin was a brown colored tarry asphalt like substance that gave paintings the look of the antique. It was very popular for part of the 19th century. It never really dried and caused cracking and bled into other passages of a painting. The Raft of the Medusa has some serious problems because of that. Fine artists no longer use bitumin however sometimes decorative painters still do.