Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Homage to Gericault, A Trip to Rouen, France

In April I made a pilgrimage to Rouen, to honor my favorite artist Theordore Gericault, the 19th century French romanticist. I was joined by my twelve year old daughter, who thanks to French Immersion, is fluent in French.She was a great translator and travel companion!
                           View of the Rouen Cathedral. Photo by Marie Dauenheimer

Gericault was born in Rouen, in upper Normandy, in 1791. By 1812, after studying with Carle Vernet, Gericault found success in the Paris Salon. Many of his early works depict cavalrymen and horses. Indeed, Gericault was fascinated with the horse throughout his career and spent time at the stables of Versailles studying and drawing. The anatomical study, depiction and fascination with the horse would last his entire career.

    Three Trumpeters of the Polish Lancers, 1814, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Gericault is best know for his epic masterpiece The Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819). One of the most important works of the 19th century, this monumental painting depicts the wreck of the ship Medusa. The dynamic composition of figures forming a pyramid, the dark and somber palette and pathos of the idealized figures creates a dramatic depiction of a 19th tragedy.

                            Raft of the Medusa,1818-1819, Musee du Louve, Paris

The trip to Rouen was part of my on going life long homage to Gericault. The Musee des Beaux Arts in Rouen is a gem of a museum and of course has a wonderful collection of Gericault's work. The collection includes a painting called "Anatomical Pieces" which depicts a still life of human limbs.  This was one of many studies Gericault did in preparation for his masterpiece "Raft of the Medusa".

                         Anatomical Pieces, 1818, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rouen

Although Gericault is buried in Paris, there is a replica of his beautiful tomb in the cafe of the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Rouen.  It features a bas relief sculpture of the Medusa and a sculpture of Gericault reclining, with brush and palette, atop the tomb. 

                  Sculpture of Gericault on his tomb, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rouen.

Rouen is a beautiful medieval city and only about 90 minutes from Paris by train.  In addition to the Musee des Beaux-Arts other sites of interest include the Rouen Cathedral, painted numerous times by Monet.  There is also a field of flowers in the middle of the city, to honor where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1413. I highly recommend an excursion to Rouen!

                                       Cafe, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rouen

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