Everyone knows about Géricault: the quintessential Romantic painter, le peintre maudit, the misunderstood rebel with the intense personal vision. Everyone knows about his brief, turbulent life: rejected by officialdom, admired by his colleagues, dead at thirty-three and instantly mythologized. But what do we know about his art? The Raft of the Medusa, of course. Thanks to that chapter in Julian Barnes’s book we know a great deal about the shipwreck that inspired the painting and even about the way Géricault went about making his vast, chilling picture. (I recently ran across three people with no special interest in nineteenth-century French painting who all knew that Géricault had a survivor build him a scale model of the raft.) But what of the paintings, apart from the anecdotes?

The Raft of the Medusa...

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