The Raft of the Medusa
Minneapolis. The first time I saw The Raft of the Medusa by Theodore Gericault, I didn’t view the real thing. It was a study, not full-size, occupying one wall near the entrance. Zipping through the other great art in that museum, I returned to sit in front of it, eviscerated by the ruin that could be portrayed with canvas and some paint.
The original is in the Louvre, so massive that it occupies floor-to-ceiling wall space in one of the long galleries in a main wing. It was a packed house the day I was there, wall-to-arts-dripping-wall. Every painting in that room is an epic treasure. Still, I was drawn to the Gericault. I edged my way onto a crowded bench in front of it and craned my neck until it ached, my eyes shining with tears.
What is it about that work that is so seminal, so basic, for me?
It’s not a pretty picture, though it is well executed. When I first saw it, I knew nothing about the period, the artist, the medium, the history – absolutely nothing. I’ve since learned those things, trying to understand why I connected with a work of such despair and violent, hopeless death. I even read a whole book about the artist and his most famous painting.
I remain flummoxed.
It isn’t even that I necessarily like the painting. Sometimes, the things that move us are visions that repel us. The notion that art has to be something we like, a projection that makes us feel good, is one I don’t buy. For the first time in my life, I walked away from a work of art on my knees, hobbled by grief.
Have you ever cried over a work of art?
This post is the second installment in the series Eye of the Beholder, my wandering observations about works of art that speak to me. If this is your first visit to the series, please click here to catch up on the first post, and go here for the second.