Between Thomas Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa and Rosa Bonheur’s Plowing in the Nivernais, beyond its politics is an interest in presenting nature as an expansive force. Nature is not about clouds and hills, but in discovering the tone of a subject. The tone of The Raft is intricate and layered whereas The Nivernais is much more direct and explanatory in its reflection. How lighting is used described the paintings differently in their message ant their ideas about their shared country of France.
Both paintings were composed years after a revolution. The reseating of a monarch inspired The Raft, and the image itself was inspired from the faulty event of an unqualified captain. As with The Nivernais, a chaotic revolution had excited the city life, yet the power of the painting takes place in the country. More uniquely, both Gericault and Bonheur provide subjects of humanity within a greater force. Instead of thoroughly romanticism their topic, these painters depict with a more intimate respect.
The initial force in The Raft of the Medusa is shaped by a thunderous sea. Shadows are the heart of this image as darkness takes place in the sky, the sea, and amongst the men. And it is amongst these damaged bodies that the darkness is truly shaped with pallid tones. The spectrum of emotions ranges from exhaustion and helplessness to surprise and desperation. The foundation and the raft of this massive painting is rooted in greening stages of death. And the very top of this many-limbed creature is an umber body of life rooting for help too far to be seen.
The Plowing in the Nivernais is filled with light. Brightness radiates the barrel-bodies of the oxen. The soil, rich and encrusted, is an extensive road with a few men walk on. But the men featured are not only walking this road but creating it, for the present and future generation. Working the land is the glory of this image as the soft and welling horizon is crossed and sharpened by the aligned backs of the oxen. These robust animals trudge into the foreground, carving the earth for productive means, and us closer to a planned tomorrow.
Lighting can define the tone of a painting. It reveals shape but more importantly, what and where the painter’s intentions are. Where Gericault provides grim appreciation to stranded existences, Bonheur celebrates the authority in remaining grounded in a working lifestyle. In either painting, a return to nature is circumstantial. It can either bring us closer to turmoil and rashness. Or, it can test our abilities of structure and output.
Gericault, Theodore. The Raft of the Medusa. 1819.Louvr, France.
Bonheur, Rosa. Plowing in the Nivernais. 1843. Musée d'Orsay, France.