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Study of a Dapple Grey

Théodore Géricault

(1791 - 1824) | 850.3.1

Date : Circa 1812 | Medium : Oil on canvas

As the renowned Géricault expert, Germain Bazin, wrote, ‘Géricault demonstrated that it was possible to paint a real horse that was more lifelike than the aristocratic, elitist animals depicted by Stubbs or Carle Vernet and the epic beasts favoured by Gros. Here, as in other areas, the young artist turned to realism. His equestrian enthusiasm, so immoderate that it would eventually lead to his death, prompted him to set up his easel in the stable. Rather than portraying the horse in action after the manner of Carle, his master, he sought to create a truthful image and for that he went to see the animal in its stall.’

That the Rouen painting is a study is revealed in the treatment of the head which has the look of an ‘écorché’, an anatomical representation of a body without skin (literally ‘flayed’).

Many other versions of the work exist but it is certainly the original that we have here, confirmed by pentimenti (underpainting), for example in the position of the tail, but above all by the quality of the composition. Shaped and worked with a vigorous application that has no softness about it, the horse is rendered with a weightlessness that makes it seem as if it is barely touching the ground. The light falling on its beautiful grey and white dappled coat is picked out with perfect judgement – the bright patches making this quasi-fantastical creature with its unwavering gaze stand out against the dark shadows of the background.