An extremely rare collection
Alongside this exhibition, and within the framework of the "Napoléon hors les murs" programme, the new Cabinet d’arts graphiques at the Musée Condé is exhibiting around forty of Géricault’s lithographs, as well as three original drawings, all from the extraordinary collections bequeathed by Henri d’Orléans, Duke of Aumale (1822-1897), to the Institut de France.
On 29 January 1866, the Duke of Aumale bought an extremely rare and almost complete collection comprising about 100 lithographs by Géricault, from the sculptor Henry de Triqueti (1803-1874): ‘20 January 1866… Tomorrow I shall negotiate the Géricaults that I wish to bring to Orleans House, they are such noble works’; ‘29 January 1866... Based on the advice you gave me, I acquired the Géricault collection for 2,700 francs. The prints in it are all wonderful: half of the pieces are impossible to find today. I spent more than 25 years amassing such a collection. […] Most of these lithographs have their margins and are in magnificent condition. If the Prince so wishes, I shall keep my eye out for the five or six pieces that are missing for the oeuvre to be complete, but the chances are slim: we saw them reach huge prices on the rare occasions that they were put up for sale (up to 600 francs apiece).’
Théodore Géricault (Rouen, 1791-Paris, 1824) trained in Paris in the studio of Carle Vernet and of the neoclassical painter Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, then at the École des Beaux-Arts from 1811 onwards. He copied the masters at the Louvre, but was a rebel and, in 1812, was expelled by its director Vivant Denon for violent and unlawful acts. In autumn 1816, despite not having received the Prix de Rome, he travelled to Italy at his own expense to stay in Rome. Here, he painted the famous riderless horse races that took place along the Corso during Carnival, as well as genre scenes inspired by ordinary Italian life. In September 1817, he returned to France, having much admired Michelangelo and Ingres, and started to produce lithographs.
Géricault wasn’t entirely the champion of imperialism he was believed to have been: his works show a highly critical viewpoint with regard to the Napoleonic Wars. He went to great pains to depict the unhappiness, misery and suffering of the troops in Chariot chargé de soldats blessés (Cart Filled with Wounded Soldiers) 1818, Retour de Russie (Return from Russia) 1818, Caisson d’artillerie (The Artillery Caisson) 1818, and Le Cheval mort (The Dead Horse) 1823. He strove to depict the reality of the troops’ suffering: the mutilation, violence, artillery fire. Inspired by an anecdote related in the newspaper Le Constitutionnel, Géricault undertook a fierce political critique of the Restoration regime in Le Factionnaire suisse (Swiss Sentry at the Louvre) 1819): a maimed former soldier of the Empire is seen propping himself up with his walking stick. He is stopped at the ticket booth to the Louvre and is so furious that he opens his redingote to show the Legion of Honour that he earned in battle, and orders the sentry to ‘present arms’. This is one of Géricault’s most famous lithographs.
Le Radeau de la Méduse (The Raft of the Medusa), Musée du Louvre, which was inspired by a dramatic incident that occurred in 1816, is widely considered to be Géricault’s masterpiece. Exhibited at the 1819 Salon under the title Scène de naufrage (Scene of a Shipwreck), it caused a scandal for evoking cannibalism amongst the starving sailors, for the horror of the scene and the despair of the wretches abandoned on the high seas, as well as for its criticism of the Restoration regime (the ship’s captain had not sailed for years).
In 1820 and 1821, Géricault travelled to London where The Raft of the Medusa was exhibited. He went there with his lithographer friend Charlet with whom he produced a lithograph based on the painting. It shows the arrival of the Argus which came to rescue the remaining survivors. In this last-ditch effort, all of the figures are shown from behind, huddled together in a pyramid-like composition.
Géricault sought to capture the misery of the capital of industry in the streets of London, depicting for the first time, a social class that had never before been represented in painting: beggars, cripples, pipers, workers of the industrial revolution, etc. He also harboured an interest in racing, and attended the Epsom Derby. As an avid horse rider, painting horses and riders was something that interested him from the beginning of his career.
He was a romantic artist and, in 1823, worked with Eugène Lami to illustrate Lord Byron’s Oriental tales The Giaour, Mazeppa, Lara and The Bride of Abydos. Orientalism was another source of inspiration for Géricault: Mameluck défendant un trompette blessé (Mamluk Defending an Injured Trumpeter), 1818, and he was also interested in the subject of slavery Boxeurs (Boxers), 1818. His penchant for exoticism led him to depict wild animals like African lions, in turbulent and violent scenes.
Stricken by an incurable disease, Géricault died tragically in 1824. At 32 years of age, this highly regarded figure of romanticism was younger than Raphael or Watteau at the time of his death. Inspired by classical art and trained by the painters of the neoclassical generation, he introduced contemporary life into his oeuvre, took liberal standpoints and produced lithographic works that are amongst the greatest masterpieces of the 19th century.
With the support of the Hauts-de-France Region, as part of the "Napoléon hors les murs" programme, and of the Friends of the Domaine de Chantilly.
Exhibition included in the Domain ticket with no extra cost.
Location: the prints and drawings gallery (château)
Catalogue by Nicole Garnier published by Editions Faton, "Carnets de Chantilly" Collection, n°5 : 19,50€.
Nicole GARNIER, General Heritage Curator, at the Condé museum
This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of
Mr. and Mrs. Ludovic de Montille
and the Friends of the Domaine de Chantilly