Jean-Louis-André-Théodore Géricault (French, 1791-1824)
Jean-Louis-André-Théodore Géricault (French, 1791-1824)


Jean-Louis-André-Théodore Géricault (French, 1791-1824)
oil on canvas
11 ½ x 8 ½ in. (29 x 21.5 cm.)
Painted circa 1823.
The sculptor Baron H. de Triqueti (1803-1874), Paris.
By descent to his daughter, Mrs Edward Lee Childe, née Blanche de Triqueti, Paris.
Thence by descent in the de Triqueti family to a Private collection, Paris.
with Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, New York, 1990.
Acquired from the above by the present owners in 1990.
C. Clément, Géricault. Étude biographique et critique avec le catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre du maître, Paris, 1868, p. 316, no. 153. (and third edition, with supplement, 1879, p. 316, no. 153).
P. Grunchec, Géricault, Paris, 1991, p. 129, no. 248 (illustrated p. 130).
Paris, Hôtel Jean Charpentier, Exposition d’Oeuvre de Géricault , 24 April-16 May 1924, no. 281.
Paris, Maison Victor Hugo, La Jeunesse des Romantiques, 18 May-30 June 1927.

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Clare Keiller
Clare Keiller

Lot Essay

This deeply felt expression of torment was executed by Géricault from his sick-bed in the last year of his life. It illustrates the true story of the young Ukranian Ivan Mazepa (1639-1709), who, as punishment for his adultery with a Polish Countess, was tied naked to a wild horse. The horse was then set free to gallop through forests and steppes, nearly killing his mount during the ride. The story was retold by Byron in a poem of the same name, published in England in 1819, and in France by Amedée Pichot in 1822. Géricault has chosen to depict the stanza where horse and rider stagger exhausted from an icy river, a moment of re-birth as the clouds part to reveal the moon. Géricault was the first of many French artists to illustrate the poem in 1823, and another horizontal composition on the same theme was reproduced as lithograph by Lami (Musée de Rouen). The lithograph directly inspired Delacroix’s treatment of the subject in 1826 (fig. 1), and Vernet (fig. 2) showed a Mazeppa at the Salon in the same year (Musée Calvet, Avignon). Boulanger went on to show his Mazeppa at the Salon of 1828 (Musée des Beaux Arts, Rouen), but none of these comparable examples have the dramatic concentration of this small work.
The subject resonated deeply with Géricault, and draws together many strands of his life. He was a committed anglophile, and an admirer of Byron whose works he would illustrate with three more lithographs executed in collaboration with Lami: Le Giaour, Le Fiancée d’Abydos and Lara. It exemplifies his love of the horse, an abiding theme in his art. Delacroix recalled `Géricault only rode spirited horses … He was able to mount them only by surprise, and once scarcely astride he would be carried away by the animal’. His recklessness in the saddle was to cause an early, protracted and painful death however as repeated falls caused and exacerbated an abscess on his spine. But Géricault’s final identification with the subject came as a result of his adultery. His affair with his aunt, Alexandrine-Modeste, the much younger wife of an elderly uncle, had resulted in the birth of a son. The matter had caused much shame and ignominy – the child was raised in obscurity in the country - and Gericault no doubt reflected that his agonised suffering was retribution for such a betrayal.
Kenneth Clark wrote of Géricault’s most celebrated painting, The Raft of the Medusa (Louvre, Paris, 1819) that it `remains the chief example of romantic pathos expressed through the nude; and that obsession with death, which drove Géricault to frequent mortuary chambers and places of public execution, gives truth to his figures of the dead and the dying. Their outlines may be taken from the classics, but they have to be seen again with a craving for violent experience’. The same intense romanticism, abandonment to feeling, suffering and violence can be seen in Mazeppa, arguably the greatest endeavour of his final months, and the summation of his career.
This small work would appear to be the artist’s preliminary treatment. He went on to paint another slightly larger version (privatecCollection). As the present work was held very privately in the collection of the sculptor Baron Henri de Triqueti, and his daughter Mrs Lee Childe, the two versions and their provenance have at times been confused and conflated in the artist’s literature. Much of the catalogue entry from the 1991 Bicentennial Géricault exhibition at the Grand Palais is devoted to separating the two works. The present picture was fêted as a discovery when it was sold privately in New York in 1990, having descended in the Triqueti family. This is the first time it has appeared at auction.

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