Sunday, 9 April 2017

Gericault's Raft of the Medusa and Turner's Slave Ship

The Comparison of Gericault's Raft of the Medusa and Turner's The Slave Ship

Theodore Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa was painted in 1818-1819.  It was done in oil on canvas and was done in the French Romantic Style.  The image itself was a recreation of an Actual French Merchant Ship which was carrying passengers in the Atlantic Ocean. The accident happened just prior to his painting this image and was the impetus for him to do so. It was a statement against the politics of the time where a person could get a position not because they were qualified to hold the job, but because of political friends. It’s the story of how the captain abandoned the passengers he was supposed to be protecting to save his own life. It sent a very strong political message, it spoke clearly of how this was not an accident and was an act of selfishness on the part of the Captain of the vessel. The image itself is a hopeful one however; as you can see the wave in the distance with a sail showing, meaning rescue is at hand.  Gericault actually went to the morgue to draw a drowned corpse so he could accurately show what they look like.  There is even an anti-slave comment hidden in the painting since the one who spots them and rescues them is a black slave.  The image itself is set up much like a historical painting since it represents the figures as far more heroic than they would have been when rescued.  But it is very much a modern work.  It brings out a full spectrum of emotion in the viewer based on the very darkness of the image and the corpses, the image of an older man holding what we can assume is his son and mourning him. And the raft literally washed up into our space puts us in the water with these poor souls.

Theodore Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa

J.M.W. Turner’s The Slave Ship was painted in 1840.  Like Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa it was painted in Oil on canvas and was Romantic in style. This painting is a definite statement against slavery and the slave trade. Where Gericault hid his feelings against slavery in the painting Turner slapped the viewer in the face with it.  The image itself shows the slaves thrown overboard.  You see hands, legs, chains and human bodies thrown overboard in chains so they will drown.  It is a scene full of horror and angst, yet even in that horror there is a sense of divine retribution as a cyclone or typhoon bearing down on that very slave vessel.  Even then we see the total indifference of nature since the storm will not only overcome the slave ship but will also drown the poor slaves thrown overboard in chains. Turner was speaking out against the horrors and the very idea that human beings could be so cruel and do such unspeakable acts all for the sake of money.

J.M.W. Turner’s The Slave Ship

Both artists were speaking out against Slavery and Politics in general. Both artists portrayed landscape scenery in a manner that evoked feelings in you.  And both artists painted acts that had happened. While Gericault’s was an actual event that everyone knew happened, Turner’s is not an actual event. Turner’s painting was a compilation of all the known slave dumping’s to make money on insurance.  These two artists were both speaking against the cruel nature of man.

Turner’s painting was more about the weather itself being stronger than man.  Some even say that the ship in Turner’s painting was actually a symbol of the Catholic Church or human life. While the brooding storm, whipping waves were all transcendental powers or God.  And that Turner was speaking out about the futility of fighting God. 

I believe that both artists were letting the world know their views about slavery and the cruel nature of man. And while I personally prefer the imagery in Gericaults painting over Turner’s painting the hidden messages in both are done with meticulous care so only those who study the paintings can actually get the full effect of what these talented artists were trying to tell the world.

What do you think about these two artists? And did you pick up the hidden message at first glance?  Let me know in your reply.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Avant-Garde in the 19th Century

Artists were artists who desired to affect change through their art!

Gericault and Courbet were considered Avant-Garde artists because they both painted Realistic portrayals of the present. Prior to their works painters usually painted historical recreations in a romantic way. Artists would paint a single moment in a greater narrative for the audience to consider. They were considered Avant-Garde artists because they tried to use their art to make a statement or a change in the world. Paintings like A Burial at Ornans by Courbet or Gericault's The Raft of the Medusa showed the people who were suffering because of the upper class.  The artists hoped that by painting what they saw in the present and not romanticizing it they would be able to change the way the powers that be reacted to the lower or middle classes.  This very desire to use art to affect change is what makes them Avant-Garde Artists.

A Burial at Ornans by Courbet

The Raft of the Medusa by Gericault

Thomas Couture was a history painter and teacher. His most famous art work is the Romans During the Decadence in 1847. His art was romantic in nature, his paintings were historically based, and the paint itself was smooth and controlled. His paintings depict a moment in a much larger narrative story, and in my opinion his art was a perfect example of everything that was acceptable in the art world at that time. It was an academic painting with impeccable attention to detail. And its overall effect was totally false. His historical images were romanticized in such a manner to be pleasing to the eye.  And I consider him a painter with limited imagination and style, nothing more than a one hit wonder.  While he did have other successful paintings he never achieved the same status with any of them that he did with Romans.  His students however went on to achieve quite a lot. One of his most famous students and who I personally feel expressed himself well in his art was Edouard Manet.

Romans During the Decadence by Couture

Thomas Coutures' student Edouard Manet in contrast to his teacher, was at the forefront of Impressionism.  His unbending will to paint things as he saw them was expressed in his paintings. Le dejeuner sur l'herbe and Olympia were perfect examples of his flaunting society’s standards.  
Le dejeuner sur l'herbe by Manet

Olympia by Manet

While like his teacher Couture, he did use some historical references, they were more of a strike against the past rather than a snapshot narrative of it.  With the social climate being what it was in Paris, he flaunted the bounds of propriety by showing not only a fully nude female form, but also with her facing the audience.  She showed her pride and her sexuality which was unacceptable for the time period.  Because of course women were thought to be demure and non-sexual. Manet’s painting style was not as clean and organized as his teacher Couture and his brush strokes not only showed in the painting but there were often harsh lines or even what those at the time would consider unfinished areas. Those blurs of paint which others considered unfinished, I perceive as the beginning of Impressionism.  Since he leaves it to the viewers impression what belongs there. Manet actually showed his work in the Salon des Refuses because the salons of the time were refusing artists like him.  Manet unlike Couture painted real life.  His paintings reflected the everyday Parisian.  And the Bourgeoisie did not appreciate that style of art at all, hence the Salon’s refusal to show his artwork. This did not stop him and others like him, they kept painting just as they felt, expressing their own opinions of the world in their artwork; hidden except for those who looked deep enough to see the truth hidden behind the art.

In my opinion each of these artists was a stepping stone to today’s art world.  The styles live on in the art of today.  The use of Palette knives to smear paint, blocky, chunky or even mixed media arts all take their roots from these originators of the works we do today. And like those artists who painted what they saw to try to affect change, artists of today likewise use their art to make statements to try to change the status quo.