(1791 - 1824) | 901.3.1
Date : Circa 1814 | Medium : Oil on canvas
Acquired at the Antoine Vollon sale, 1901
The carabinier is wearing the double cuirass with brass overlay of the elite regiment of the French cavalry under Napoleon. Beneath this armour, protecting his torso and held in place by two shoulder straps and a belt, the soldier’s white coat has a sky blue collar edged with white piping and his epaulettes are threaded with silver and scarlet. The uniform shows his rank to be that of a non-commissioned officer in the 1st of the two carabinier cavalry regiments. The carabinier’s weapons were a sabre (with a distinctive hilt carrying the grenade insignia of an elite solider) a pistol and a musket.
With this painting that reflects the imperial era’s penchant for military portraits, Théodore Géricault is clearly following in the footsteps of the masters who taught him (Vernet and Guérin) or those he admired (Gros). The work was, however, completed at the end of the Empire, around 1813–1814 and, with the abdication of Napoleon and the accession of Louis XVIII, military glory would soon become a thing of the past. Thus the carabinier is unarmed and has dismounted, his horse no more than a dark and lowering shadow behind him. He is a handsome soldier with a sombre gaze and an aggressive set to his mouth; his forehead catches the light and his metal breast plate glints coldly.
The commanding insistency in the eyes suggests that Géricault has incorporated an element of self-portrait into the painting. The young Delacroix, on discovering the work in the painter’s studio in 1823, exclaimed, simply, ‘A study of the head of a carabinier. Unforgettable! What determination!’ (Journal, 1823).