Citizens of the World, Blacks and Orientals of Géricault
by Bruno Chenique
Lienart / Museum Denon, 254 p., 35 €
In 2019, the Musée d’Orsay devoted a large exhibition to ” Black model »Finally tackling on its rails questions explored for thirty years already by Hugh Honor, in his book The Image of the Black in Western Art. While the debate around colonial representations is re-emerging today around certain public statues, this essay by Bruno Chenique, a great specialist in Géricault, sheds light on the revolutionary attitude of the romantic artist in his time.
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We know how much his work abounds in figures of blacks and orientals, including several paintings and a watercolor of youth rediscovered recently. Each time, Géricault’s empathy which ” identified himself with an outcast Is obvious, underlines the author, listing the artist’s many links with abolitionist circles. His close friend was Colonel Fortuné Brack, whose father was a member of the Society of Black Friends.
Manifesto for the brotherhood of races
In Rome, he joined the family of Guillaume Guillon-Lethière, natural son of a freed slave and director of the Villa Medici, who was to paint, in 1822, the Oath of the ancestors celebrating the first black republic of Haiti. One of Géricault’s black models, Joseph, was from this island, whose struggle for independence inspired several drawings by the artist.
The presence on The Raft of Medusa of two blacks and, at the top of the pyramid of the shipwrecked, of a half-breed, in blue pants and brandishing a white and red fabric, thus becomes in the eyes of our art historian a ” allegory of Santo Domingo “And a manifesto” for the brotherhood of races Beyond a barely veiled criticism of the Restoration.
As proof, he discovers the discreet pattern of intertwined black and white hands, borrowed from abolitionist medals. The Freemason Corréard, survivor of the shipwreck and direct source of Géricault, had denounced the continued trafficking in blacks in Senegal. A subject to which the painter, who died prematurely at 32, wanted to devote another large painting.
Notable fact, notes Bruno Chenique, “None of the art critics of the Salon of 1819 spoke of the skin color of the main hero of the Raft. “As if the painter’s audacity was too blinding at a time when” mixed race was still a real obsession for many »…