While examining the three preliminary studies for Gericault’s final work, my eye was drawn to the second work more than the others simply because of the detail put into this work. The detail in the raft is significantly more developed in this work than in either of the other two. It’s easy to visually overlap the second and third studies together to see Gericault’s final work—elements of both preliminary sketches were altered in the final artwork.
The first work’s palette reminded me of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and didn’t intrigue me at all or tell the story in an accurate way—all because of color. This reiterates the significance and power of color within narrative work.
From a strictly compositional point-of-view, Gericault selected the most moving and engaging work—the juxtaposition of bodies in the third work is the most powerful; whereas with the second work (the one that initially appeared the most put-together), the raft appears as the focal point of the story. The triangular
Gericault’s composition of his final work is worth analyzing just for the sake of it’s quintessential complexity. To create unity within a work, things must be connected in some way. Gericault positioned the bodies on the ship in two large triangles. The closest triangle is filled with bodies in despair and agony. The second, more distant triangle, is composed of men trying to gain the attention of the ship on the horizon. This overlapping of two visual elements to create unity is incredibly successful. And while they’re all physically on a raft; the emotional connection within the work is what really cultivates a sense of connectedness and unity. The complexity of the second preliminary study’s, and subsequently—the final work’s—color, is reiterating what the visual forms of the work are telling us—there are dramatic shifts in contrast and a richness of color within this work that pull you in and make this gruesome scene beautiful (Monroe Beardlsey would approve of this work).
Ultimately, Gericault’s three preliminary sketches reiterate the importance of extensive pre-planning and both loose and refined studies. If he were to have abandoned any sort of creative evolution after the first sketch, the work would not be as powerful and historically significant as it is. The importance of painting compelling, historically-accurate work that is captivating to view is a compelling element of Gericault’s process.
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