Géricault’s deep love for all things equine led to the depiction of horses becoming a powerful and recurring theme throughout his career, perhaps most iconically through his 1812 and 1814 Salon entries: The Charging Chasseur and The Wounded Cuirassier, as well as his highly ambitious, but unrealised project for The Race of the Barberi Horses. Whilst his formative years in France under the tutelage of Carle Vernet, who was himself an artist renowned for his equestrian portrayals, were undoubtedly an influence on the young artist, it was Géricault’s time in England, a country with its own rich history of equestrian painting, that shed a new and most welcome light on this ever evolving subject matter.
Géricault’s primary purpose for travelling to England, in April of 1820, was to accompany his monumental and critically acclaimed painting, The Raft of the Medusa, which was exhibited with enormous success at William Bullock’s Egyptian Hall on Piccadilly, where, during a six month period, it was viewed by upward of 50,000 visitors. There can be little doubt, however, that alongside the aforementioned exhibition, Géricault must also have anticipated that his voyage to England would be a fitting opportunity to immerse himself in the upper echelons of English society, where commissions from wealthy, horse owning patrons might help to boost the artist’s personal finances which were, more often than not, in a fluctuating state of uncertainty.
However, on his arrival in London, Géricault found that he was drawn away from much of the formality and tradition of English equestrian art - instead finding inspiration in a new, more egalitarian subject matter: the cart horse. These noble creatures, so much a feature of early industrial Britain, appeared frequently in a series of twelve lithographs designed by Géricault, known as his Série Anglaise, as well as featuring in various drawings, some executed in graphite alone, while others, such as the present lot, impressively worked up in watercolor. Indeed, two closely comparable works, possibly even depicting the same animal, were formerly in the Collection of Hans E. Bühler, and convincingly dated by Germain Bazin to Géricault’s English period, based primarily on their close resemblance to the horses portrayed in his lithographs depicting Horses going to a Fair and The Coal Waggon.
A similar dating and connection with the ex-Bühler drawings was also independently proposed by Lorenz Eitner in a private correspondence with the late owner, as well as Philippe Grunchec, who has also kindly confirmed the attribution of the Barnet drawing to Géricault, following first hand inspection of the work.
One can sense in the present drawing, the way in which Géricault has, as only he can, successfully captured the monumentality of this powerful creature, whilst simultaneously instilling the viewer with an unavoidable sense of admiration for this most noble animal.
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