Théodore Géricault: The Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819)


(Louvre, Paris, France)

A famous painting by the French artist Théodore Géricault (1791–1824). The Méduse sailed with a convoy from France to Senegal but through the incompetence of her captain, Viscount Hugues Duroy de Chaumareys, the ship lost contact with the others ships and ran aground off the coast of today's Mauritania on 2 July 1816. As land was only 30 miles away from the wreck, it was decided to ferry the passengers and crew to the shore - initially with several trips. When a gale threatened to break up the shipwreck, passengers and crew panicked and Chaumareys decided to evacuate the frigate immediately. About 146 men and one women were put on an unstable raft which was towed by the boats of Méduse (17 men stayed on the shipwreck). After towing several miles the crew on the towing lifeboats began to fear being overwhelmed by the desperate survivors on the raft and cut the ropes, leaving leaving the raft and its occupants to their fate. The men on lifeboats (including Chaumareys) soon reached the shore and most managed to reach their destination Senegal. After cutting the rope, the situation on the raft deteriorated almost instantly - 20 men were killed or committed suicide during the first night. After 4 days of the 147 survivors only 67 were still alive (some resorted to cannibalism) and on the eighth day the 15 fittest survivors threw the weak and wounded overboar
d. The 15 survivors were eventually picked up on 17 July by Argus. All the 17 men still on the Méduse were rescued after 54 days. Captain Chaumareys was tried in a court martial but was sentenced to only three years in jail. Géricault shows the survivors when they spotted a ship on the horizon. Although the ship, the Argus, initially sailed away, it returned after two hours and rescued the survivors. Painting from 1818-1819.

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