Mutiny: Works by Géricault explores compelling images by the Romantic period’s most influential artist, Théodore Géricault (1791–1824), whose powerful legacy endured long past his untimely death in his early thirties. Approximately 40 drawings, watercolors, lithographs, and paintings from the Harvard Art Museums collections, augmented by loans from three Boston-area collectors, tell a new story of this socially and politically engaged artist across a range of media.
Géricault’s work both reflected and inflected the changes that took place during the Restoration period in Europe. Lasting from roughly 1815 to 1830, this was an ostensibly peaceful time in the aftermath of the French revolution and the Napoleonic wars; yet the continent was still recovering from the earlier violence, and the Industrial Revolution was making its presence felt through increased urbanization and the introduction of new technologies. Recognizing this turmoil, Géricault strove to represent the casual brutality at the center of modern life, forgoing mythological or religious subjects to focus squarely on the present. This interest appears not only in images of wounded soldiers and the urban poor, but also in works depicting men as they interacted with horses as well as in portrayals of animals in distress or at battle. Mutiny considers Géricault as the prototype of the modern artist: rejecting the norms of society in order to expose its tensions and conflicts through depictions of competing extremes—physical strength and weakness.
Géricault is today famed for his paintings, most notably The Raft of the Medusa (now in the Louvre), but during his lifetime he was more widely known for his prints. In this exhibition, three of Géricault’s paintings will be presented alongside the lithographic prints that assured the artist’s posthumous fame. Capturing the world around him with a sense of vivid immediacy, Géricault’s drawings and watercolors are critical to understanding his goals as an artist, and the exhibition will feature 12 of these creations.