Regency Painters – Part Three

Painting during the Regency could never permanently leave behind Classicism and its successor, neo-Classicism, until a bridge could be formed to woo the remaining adherents of the old style (read old money) to Romanticism, the new style.

That bridge was provided by the young French painter Theodore Gericault (1791 – 1824).  The legacy left behind by his tragically short career is marked by classical subjects rendered in urgent emotion.  He took the human and animal forms of the old French masters and placed them against burgeoning tapestries that Turner was later known for.  Gericault pitted the orderly and the structured against the unrestrained violence of nature.

Gericault’s work reduced the gulf between the raised swords of David and the suffering of Delacroix.

He certainly looks like a classical romantic, doesn’t he?

A year after the events in Notorious Match, Emma Montgomery came to a momentous decision to travel abroad.  She had never been beyond England’s borders, having grown up the penniless daughter of a sheep herder only to become widowed at age sixteen with an infant daughter she named Vivien, the heroine of Notorious Vow.  Thanks to a timely investment from an unknown benefactor, Emma’s brother reaped a fortune in the wool trade.  This gave her the means to travel abroad, but not the desire to do so.  At least, not yet.  That only came about when her nephew Griffin, the hero of Notorious Match, arrived homeless from France.  She took him in and listening to his vivid descriptions of the France of his youth, she slowly conceived a longing to see it for herself.

It was 1816 and the Bourbon dynasty had been restored in France with Napoleon’s defeat.  It seemed the perfect time to go to Paris and Emma announced her imminent departure for that city, and places beyond, insisting on going alone.  Neither Vivien nor Griffin liked this sudden impulse she had conceived.  But they were helpless to dissuade her.

Emma was quite Determined.

While she was travelling, Emma wrote frequently to her daughter in crisscrossed lines that was her usual fashion to save on postage.  In June, several months after her departure, the letters stopped, the last one not only difficult to read but puzzling as well.  Who was this Medusa?

Then news of a maritime disaster riveted people on both sides of the Channel.  The Meduse was a French frigate that had seen action in the Napoleonic wars.  Much of her artillery had been removed when she was made to ferry officials to the French colony of Senegal in a convoy of ships whose names read like a cast of characters in the Iliad.  Faster than her companions, the Argos and the Echo, Meduse outsailed the other ships and ran aground 50 kilometers off the coast on a sandbank under the cowhanded command of a political appointee.

Her launches were put in the water with as many survivors as they could hold and given the task of towing the remaining passengers–146 men and one woman–on a hastily constructed (and entirely unnavigable) raft.  A gale arose and fearing mutiny, the launches cut the hapless raft adrift.  The raft became a gruesome scene of suicide, cannibalism and despair.

It was a tale of incompetence, cowardice and negligence.  A national disgrace for France.

For Gericault, the Wreck of the Medusa unmasked human frailty that had been heretofore disguised in military glory and order, leaving it bare and naked before the unbridled and destructive forces of nature.

Imagine the horror Vivien and Griffin must have felt, believing Emma had become a victim of shipwreck.

Their only hope of finding her alive rested upon a man whose own disgrace was as monumental as that of France’s.

It is the story of a Notorious Affair.

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8 thoughts on “Regency Painters – Part Three

  1. Yes, poor Medusa. Probably a bad luck name. Funny how classical antiquity spilled over into all sorts of things during the Regency. I think one of Georgette Heyer’s heroines had her hair styled a la Meduse.

    Thanks for commenting!

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  2. Interesting …both the Medusa wreak and Emma’s story. I recall seeing the painting, but didn’t know the artist’s name. Graphic and gruesome is the painting….like the event.
    Thanks for the interesting article.

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  3. How horrible! I’ve seen the painting, but I didn’t know the details of the actual event. Thank you for sharing… And how very sad that such a terrific talent was cut short. What happened to the painter, Theodore Gericault?

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    • Thank you for commenting, Sasha! The painter suffered from mental and physical illness. Apparently he was not a very good rider either, succumbing to lingering effects from falling off horses….

      Like

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