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Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Making of The Raft of the Medusa

A journalist, writer, or documentary film maker today spends weeks, perhaps months, or even years putting together background material before ever stepping behind a camera or typing the first word. Today we call this "doing your homework". Most painters today don't go much beyond a few preliminary sketches, a photo or two, or maybe some quick color studies before putting brush to canvas. It's little wonder our paintings today have about as much social significance as an aspirin tablet. As I said in yesterday's epistle, it wasn't always that way.
The Raft of the Medusa

Theodore Gericault, in preparing his epic, scandalous painting The Raft of the Medusa, went to lengths only matched in this century by The Titanic film makers or perhaps the writer, James Michner, in order to immerse himself in his subject. Gericault rented a massive barn of a studio, had the surviving ship's carpenter build an exact, full-scale replica of the raft, interviewed other survivors, had some of them pose for the painting, and even went so far to visit his friendly, neighborhood morgue where he cajoled the coronor into lending him a few dead bodies to decorate the foreground of the movie-set-like conglomeration from which he painted. It made for an authentic painting, but it's doubful he was very popular with his neighbors.

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