"Raft of the Medusa"
The Medusa, a government vessel, had foundered off the West African
coast and 150 people tried to escape on a raft. After thirteen days, only
fifteen were rescued alive. They had had nothing but a few drops of wine - and
human meat - to sustain them. The tragedy was blamed on official negligence and
created a political scandal. This incident was the result of tragic
mismanagement and provoked scandal in France when the survivors were able to
tell their stories. Gericault's depiction of the anguish of the event was
construed by the government as an outright political attack. Though the
painting was titled simply
Shipwreck, all the visitors knew its real subject. Critics
either condemned or praised it depending on their political rather than their
artistic leanings. Disappointed by the lack of artistic appreciation, Gericault
lapsed into depression. But in 1820, Gericault took this huge canvas to London
where it met with considerable success in exhibitions.