"The Raft of the Medusa (French: Le Radeau de la Méduse) is a work by the French painter Théodore Géricault, and one of the icons of French Romanticism. An extremely large painting (491 × 717 cm), it was highly controversial at its first appearance in the Salon of 1819, attracting passionate praise and condemnation. The painting depicts the desperate survivors of the French frigate Medusa, which gained notoriety when it struck the Bank of Arguin off the coast of Senegal in 1816, and their first moment of apparent rescue.
The painting was a political statement – the incompetent captain was an inexperienced but politically sound anti-Bonapartist – and an artistic achievement that galvanized romantic painting and led to a break from the neoclassical style. The work was realized on the epic scale of a history painting, yet— and for the first time in France — it was based on a current news story. The unblemished musculature of the central figure, waving to the supposed rescue ship, is reminiscent of the neoclassical, but the painting is broadly romantic. The naturalism of light and shadow, authenticity of the haggard bodies, and emotional character of the composition, differentiate it from neoclassical austerity. The Raft of the Medusa was a further departure from earlier works because it depicted contemporary events with ordinary and unheroic figures, rather than religious or classical themes. However the ragged state of the figures' clothes means that the "unromantic" nature of modern dress was an issue that could be largely bypassed.
Impressed by accounts of the shipwreck, which had received huge publicity, the 25-year-old artist Théodore Géricault decided to make a painting based on the incident and contacted the authors of published accounts in 1818. In order to make his Raft of the Medusa as realistic as possible, Géricault made sketches of bodies in the morgue of the Hospital Beaujon. The painting depicts a moment recounted by one of the survivors: prior to their rescue, the passengers saw a ship on the horizon, which they tried to signal (it can be seen in the upper right of the painting). It disappeared, and in the words of one of the surviving crew members, "From the delirium of joy, we fell into profound dispondency [sic] and grief".The ship, the Argus, reappeared two hours later and rescued those who remained.
Géricault used friends as models, notably the painter Eugène Delacroix as the figure in the foreground with his face turned downward and arms outstretched.
A bronze bas-relief of the painting adorns Géricault's grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. The painting, urgently championed by the curator of the Louvre, comte de Forbin, was bought for the Louvre from Géricault's heirs after the artist's death in 1824."