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Le Retour de la course or Char antique (The Return from the Race or Ancient Chariot)

Théodore Géricault

(1791 - 1824) | (Inv. D.1963.2.1)

Date : First quarter of the 19th century | Medium : Oil on canvas, 63.5 x 80 cm

This early work by the artist is a reversed free copy based on a work by Carle Vernet (now at the Getty Museum) exhibited at the Salon in 1800 (After winning a race, a chariot driver brings his companion with him, giving her the reins of his steeds; No. 375). Géricault was inspired by Jean Godefroy’s aquatint, produced in the same direction as the Vernet drawing, but reversed the composition. In his monograph on Géricault, published in 1868, Charles Clément states: “It’s only a copy of an engraving by Carle Vernet; yet already you can see Géricault’s energy and his energetic craftsmanship...”

This copy appears to be mentioned in the inventory following the artist’s death and is included at the post-death sale held on 2 and 3 November 1924 at the Hôtel Bullion, a popular location for public sales in Paris between 1786 and 1830. In Clément’s monograph, the painting is described as belonging to “Mr Smith”. It definitely features in the collection of Georges Aubry before being sold at the Hôtel Drouot on 24 February 1936 to a “Mr D.”, referring to Pierre-Olivier Dubaut (1886-1968), an animal painter who focused on horses in particular and who collected several of the artist’s works, even starting the catalogue of Géricault’s works. He affixed a wax seal bearing his monogram onto the back. Dubaut loaned the work to an exhibition held from 10 to 29 May 1937 at the Galerie Bernheim Jeune in Paris, entitled Géricault: painter and drawer. Dubaut appears on the lists of dealers who sold works to the Germans under the occupation, and this copy was to be purchased for 325,000 francs by the Städtische Galerie in Frankfurt in 1941.

As Allied bombings intensified in Germany, the museum’s collections were sheltered at Bad Wildungen, where the Géricault was sent. There, it was to be identified by Rose Valland and Edith Standen at the end of the war, then subsequently transferred to the Collecting Point in Wiesbaden on 21 March 1946, before returning to France the following 24 March.

Retained by the 4th Selection Committee on 21 December 1949 and assigned to the Louvre, the painting was deposited in the Museum of Rouen by the decree of 29 November 1955.