Géricault took his subject from a terrible event that took place in 1816: the shipwreck of La Méduse, a royal ship transporting 150 soldiers, of whom only 10 survived. The painter made many preparatory drawings and sketches, studying the best positions and expressions for the painting that he already understood to be a masterpiece, even before he had found its general aspect.
According to Philippe Grunchec, the model used here was Louis-Alexis Jamar. Géricault's young and faithful assistant, Jamar is recognizable due to his prominent shoulder blades and his head of thick black hair (see the illustration below). Here, Gericault shows his remarkable skill in the modeling of the body, using colours and light to show muscles and movement. In the accomplished painting, Jamar is still lying on his stomach, but already dead and foreshortened.
We would like to thank Monsieur Philippe Grunchec for the information he kindly gave us.
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