Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Three Lovers by Théodore Géricault

Three Lovers (1817-20?)

The French painter Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) rarely painted female subjects, which led some to suggest that he was a homosexual or was a misogynist.  Comments made by his biographer, Charles Clément, that "this bold and masterly artist did not conceive of feminine beauty in its most delicate and distinguished forms" and quoting Géricault himself as saying he struggled with representing the female figure have cemented this view of him.  However, many years after he died, at the early age of 32, a series of erotic pictures started to appear, which had been suppressed by his family when they catalogued his work.  This small painting (about 30cm x 20cm), Three lovers, was probably painted between 1817 and 1820, following a tour of Rome, Florence and Naples. 

Study for Three Lovers

The naked woman on the left lolls in a languid, post coital pose as she watches the more active couple on the left.  The three are obviously totally comfortable with each other and we get the strong impression that we have arrived mid-way through a passionate, carnal episode involving all three as participants; not just a couple and a voyeur.  The fact that one women is naked and the other still dressed suggests that it is now just the beginning of the blonde woman's 'turn'.  The man already has bare legs (at least) as if he has already been in action, so to speak.

A number of other erotic sketches have  appeared over the years which are passionate but not graphic.  Still, they are very bold for 200 years ago and were probably done for Géricault's own entertainment rather than for sale.  Certainly it is believed that Three Lovers remained in his studio after he painted it.

Géricault was born in Rouen in 1791 and had a classical artistic education, also learning about the anatomy of the horse from his time living in Versailles where he drew the horses in the stables there.  His first major work, The Charging Chasseur (1812) was well received but his follow-up, The Wounded Cuirassier was less so.  Disappointed he joined the army garrison at Versailles for a short while but then undertook his trip to Italy.

The Kiss (1822)

After returning from Italy, where he had gone partly to end a romantic liaison with his aunt, he painted more military subjects before producing his masterpiece The Raft of the Medusa in 1819; a depiction of a contemporary shipwreck which he turned into a giant allegorical and politically controversial epic. 

Géricault undertook a series of portraits of the insane and, when in London to exhibit The Raft of the Medusa worked on pictures depicting the urban poor.  We was working on studies for his next epic paintings when he died at the age of 32 from tuberculosis in 1824.  We will look at some of his drawings of nymphs and satyrs, shortly.

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