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Satyr and Nymph

Théodore Géricault

(1791 - 1824) | 964.1

Date : Circa 1818 | Medium : Stone with brown patina

Just as he experimented with all genres in painting, Géricault tried his hand at all forms of art, sculpture included. Satyr and Nymph at Rouen Museum is the sole surviving work of a particularly difficult genre, stonework. Could this be the ‘small group in stone’ that ‘enchanted’ Delacroix before he uttered with a sigh, ‘one should need to be a madman to make it’? In any case it is a bold work, both from a technical point of view and by the energy of the inspiration.

Géricault boldly undertook that which no other sculptor dared: direct carving in hardstone. The block bears clear traces of tools (chisel and gradine) and anatomical anomalies owing to the difficulty of the task (the atrophied left arm of the nymph; the hollowed-out hoof of the satyr that accommodates the leg of the nymph). These imperfections reveal a contrario the interest sculpture holds for painting: to explore in space that which eludes the two-dimensional medium of painting.

The satyr’s love for a nymph is often treated as a light-hearted theme in mythology. But here the satyr is an athletic male and the woman, slumped in his grip, is thrust against the ground in a position suggestive of rape. The two bodies, stripped bare and faceless, oppose one another on either side of an empty space that assumes a constructive value, heralding the developments of contemporary sculpture.

The influence of Michelangelo in the angle of the block, the beauty of the male torso, the pose and classic beauty of the woman, and the unfinished appearance of the work, allow us to date the sculpture to circa 1818, in accordance with the artist’s drawings.