Art History Théodore Géricault
by
Nina M. Athanassoglou-Kallmyer
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0107

Introduction

Théodore Géricault (b. 1791–d. 1824) has traditionally been evoked as the iconic Romantic artist-hero. Young, attractive, and possessed with a daredevil persona, he endured a tortured life and recurring bouts with depression and illness. Although his oeuvre includes more than two hundred paintings, he died unhappy with his artistic achievement and in poverty at the untimely age of thirty-two. Yet as modern scholarship has revealed, this extravagant image was underpinned by another, much more earthy aspect. Born into the prosperous provincial bourgeoisie of the Bourbon Restoration, he was educated in a Parisian lycée and studied painting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, much like his fellow artists and friends, Pierre-Joseph Dedreux-Dorcy, Horace Vernet, Alexandre-Marie Colin, Ary Scheffer, Léon Cogniet, and the younger Eugène Delacroix, among others. But his affiliation with the privileged classes was fraught with contradictions. Although he assumed the sophisticated dress and behavior of a dandy and embraced the fashionable bourgeois pastimes (e.g., riding), he empathized with the marginal and disinherited and provoked the established orders—political and artistic—with the foolhardy boldness of a rebel fueled by radical political and social ideals and causes. And although he approached art and life with passion and had a burning curiosity for everything new—from medicine to technology—he managed his artistic career with a cool businesslike sense, seeking out markets for his works and novel display venues (his Raft of the Medusa exhibited in the popular showrooms of Bullock’s Egyptian Hall in London). He invested in experimental business ventures and in the stock market (albeit with disastrous results). As such, he was less of a Romantic dreamer and more of a down-to-earth modernist—a practical and worldly man of his time.

Reference Works

For several decades since the publication of the first monograph and catalogue raisonné of Géricault’s work by Charles Clément in 1867, revised as Clément 1973, research on the painter was—and continues to be—largely archival, confined to issues of historiography and connoisseurship, including uncovering unknown aspects of his life (see Courthion 1947); assembling and supplementing the catalogue of his works, and verifying their exact dates (Bazin 1987–1997, Delteil 2010, Joannides 1973, Grunchec 1976, Grunchec 1978); and tracking down his scattered correspondence Chenique 1996. Dated and old-fashioned as they might seem, these publications provided the foundation for the critical-theoretical studies that have dominated Géricault scholarship from the 1990s onward.

  • Bazin, Germain. Théodore Géricault. Etude critique, documents et catalogue raisonné. 8 vols. Paris: La Bilbiothèque des arts and the Wildenstein Institute, 1987–1997.

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    The indispensable research tool for Géricault studies. Combines detailed biographical, archival, and catalogue raisonné sections. Annex volume includes Errata, comprehensive bibliography, and collective indexes, including index of Géricault works in worldwide collections listed by titles, themes, and location.

  • Chenique, Bruno. “Géricault. Une correspondence décapitée.” In Nouvelles approches de l’épistolaire. Lettres d’artistes, archives et correspondances. Edited by M. Ambrière and L. Chotard, 17–50. Paris: A. Champion, 1996.

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    Presented as a paper in a symposium held at the Sorbonne on 3–5 December 1993, the publication analyzes aspects of Géricault’s scant surviving correspondence, a total of forty-four letters in all, including a newly discovered letter to his friend Horace Vernet.

  • Clément, Charles. Géricault. Etude biographique et critique avec le catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre du maître. Introduction by Lorenz Eitner. Paris: Léonce Laget, 1973.

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    A new edition of Clément’s pioneering study, originally published in 1867. Traces Géricault’s life and work, excerpts from his correspondence, and his writings on art. Catalogue raisonné lists works by categories, paintings, drawings, and lithographs.

  • Courthion, Pierre, ed. Géricault raconté par lui-même et par ses amis. Vézenas-Geneva, Switzerland: Pierre Cailler, 1947.

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    Géricault seen through a collection of archival materials, early biographies, his writings on the arts, excerpts from his letters, legal documents, birth and death certificates, and writings by his contemporaries, friends, biographers, historians of art, and art critics.

  • Delteil, Loys. Théodore Géricault: The Graphic Work: A Catalogue Raisonné with the Addition of the Charles Clément Catalogue Raisonné. Edited by Alan Hyman. San Francisco: Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 2010.

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    The updated English version of the 1924 original. Expert listing and assessment of Géricault’s known prints (one etching and seventy-six lithographs) their various states, condition, location, and provenance history.

  • Grunchec, Philippe. “L’inventaire posthume de Théodore Géricault (1791–1824).” Bulletin de la Société de l’histoire de l’art français (1976): 395–420.

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    A basic source—the posthumous inventory of the painter’s studio—useful to both beginner and expert Géricault scholars.

  • Grunchec, Philippe. Tout l’oeuvre peint de Géricault. Introduction by Jacques Thuillier. Paris: Flammarion, 1978.

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    Part of Flammarion’s series Les classiques de l’art (also published in Italian as L’opera completa di Géricault, Milan: Rizzoli, 1978), this monograph features a general introduction, excerpts from contemporary reviews, quotes from the painter’s writings, some color images, and a catalogue raisonné based on Charles Clément’s pioneering catalogue.

  • Joannides, Paul. “Toward the Dating of Géricault’s Lithographs.” Burlington Magazine 115 (1973): 666–668 and 671.

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    Based on the announcements in the Bibliographie de la France, the author corrects the dates given by Delteil and Clément for several Géricault lithographs issued between 1819 and 1826.

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