Goya, “This is worse,” From the Disasters of War Goya, The Third of May, 1808, 1814.
EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY
Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix are the two giants of French romanticism. French romanticism
often has a political content, and the artists hoped to rally public support for causes through their large
works. Géricault’s Raft of the “Medusa” is perhaps the best example of this technique. The huge painting
(it is almost twenty-four feet wide) was inspired by an actual event, a shipwreck in which the government-
appointed officers used all available lifeboats, leaving the passengers—colonists bound for Senegal—to
fend for themselves on a makeshift raft. Disease, dehydration, and cannibalism claimed the lives of all but
fifteen of the survivors.
Géricault carefully composed his work to emphasize the desperation of the castaways. The piece shows the
moment when the castaways catch sight of a passing ship. The ship, however, is a mere speck on the
horizon, and it is not clear whether the castaways will be seen and rescued or left stranded. The lighting is
dark and the seas rough and a strong wind blows the raft away from the distant ship. The painting is
composed along diagonals to give greater movement and drama to the scene. The main line of the painting
moves from the dying men in the lower left corner and culminates in the vigorous gesture of the black man
waving a cloth to attract attention. The gestures and facial expressions show extreme emotions, while
Géricault’s academic study of the nude is evident in the idealized bodies of the victims.
Gericault, Raft of the Medusa, 1819