Hoping for the end of change? (Favorites in the National Gallery at Washington, 2)

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.

Théodore Gericault (French, 1791 - 1824 ), Mounted Trumpeters of Napoleon's Imperial Guard, 1813/1814, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Fund

Théodore Gericault (French, 1791 – 1824 ), Mounted Trumpeters of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard, 1813/1814, oil on canvas, Washington, National Gallery, Chester Dale Fund. Photo: National Gallery.

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.


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About Dianne L. Durante

I constantly seek out art that's inspiring, thought-provoking, skillfully executed, and/or beautiful so I can share it (in jargon-free language) with others who need and enjoy such art, but don't have time to search for it themselves. As an independent scholar, writer, and lecturer, I focus on art history and history, with forays into food, history, politics, and publishing. My most recent projects are three volumes on Alexander Hamilton, From Portraits to Puddles, Central Park: The Early Years, Innovators in Sculpture (a survey of 5,000 years of art in 2 hours), and videoguide apps by Guides Who Know. Click on the Books & Essays tab for a list of all books. For upcoming projects, see my Patreon page.

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