Tuesday, 30 July 2019

A Visit to the Art Institute, Part 1

One of the pleasures of being a curator must be making mutually reinforcing pairings of art works. The pairing of these two portrait heads in the Art Institute of Chicago is an almost perfect example – one is very much deceased and the other is close to death. Théodore Géricault painted this study (above) of the Head of a Guillotined Man in 1818/19 – just 5 years later in January 1824, the artist is himself on his deathbed, where he is painted (below) by Charles-Émile Callande de Champmartin, a young aspiring artist in the Romantic tradition and follower of Géricault and Delacroix. Géricault was a young man obsessed with death and decay – he made many studies of body parts and corpses, observed in Parisian mortuaries as part of the preparation he undertook for his controversial painting, The Raft of the Medusa (1818/19), which is such a monumental presence in the galleries of the Louvre. Géricault’s death brought a premature end to a brief but tumultuous career, leaving posterity to speculate on what might have been. It is recorded that among his future plans were paintings on the subject of the Spanish Inquisition and the Slave Trade. His mortal remains were interred in Père Lachaise cemetery and his tomb was featured in a 2014 post which can be seen here.

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