The Impressionists were not the first artists to be frustrated by the Academy.
As early as the first quarter of the 19th century, grumblings about the institution suffocating conservatism could be heard. Theodore Gericault, a brilliant young painter who died in 1824, observed : the Academy alas, does too much, it extinguishes the sparks of the sacred fire (gifted artists), it smothers it, not granting nature the time to allow it to catch. A fire must be nurtured, yet the academy throws on too much fuel.
Gericault died to young, age just 33, but not without first painting one of the most important pictures of the century.
The Raft of the Medusa, painted between 1818 and 1819, depicts the real and horrific consequences of an incompetent French sea captain’s decision to sail too close to the shore line off the coast of Senegal.
Gericault renders this grim human catastrophe of the resulting shipwreck, with unflinching details.
He ups the emotional anti by using a theatrical style of painting much favoured by the likes of Caravaggio and Rembrandt, called chiaroscuro, were bold contrast between light and shade are accentuated to dramatic affect.
At the centre of the painting, there is a muscular man lying face down. He is dead, but the model upon whom Gericault is said to have based this figure was very much alive and painting. He was a young artist from the upper echelons of Parisian society called Eugene Delacroix, who died in 1863.