This is the second in a series of posts on my favorite paintings in the National Gallery in Washington.
I don’t feel strongly about many works by Gericault, which is odd since he’s one of the earliest French Romantics, and rousing emotions was usually what the Romantics did best. But I like the bravado of this particular painting: the bright uniforms of the trumpeters and the energy of the horse at the center. If I were a painter, I’d be taking notes on the way Gericault varies his brushwork to achieve specific and overall effects.
Gericault never painted Napoleon, only the ordinary men surrounding the emperor. That may explain why Gericault could still bear to paint military-themed works in 1813-1814, after Napoleon had suffered a crushing defeat in the Russian campaign (380,000 men dead and 100,000 captured). Napoleon abdicated the imperial throne on April 6, 1814.
See yesterday’s post for a recommendation of a book about Napoleon.
On the Romantics and other movements in 19th-century French art, see my book Seismic Shifts in Subject and Style.
What I’ll look for next time
The colors: I suspect this image from the National Gallery’s site is more drab than the actual work. But then, Gericault (and the Romantic painters in general) did lean toward somber colors.