Sunday, June 23, 2019

Gericault Watercolor Sketches

Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) is best known for oil paintings such as Raft of the Medusa, and for his oil studies, but he often used watercolor for his animal sketches.

He sketched from life using pencil and watercolor, plus sometimes a little gouache. He was always obsessed with horses, and traveled to London, where he traveled to the wharves and markets sketching horses pulling coal wagons and carts.

Attributed to Géricault, Horse in a Loose Box,
watercolor with highlights over pencil.
Watercolor lends itself to quick studies, and to fine work at a small scale. This horse study is just 5 x 8 inches.

This work horse is about 8 x 10 inches. 

Even a couple of simple light washes can make a sketch of a dog come to life.
Théodore Géricault on Wikipedia
Gericault An Album of Drawings in The Art Institute of Chicago
French Drawings from the 15th century through Géricault (Drawings of the masters)


Rich said...

Wonderful horses!
I think Gericault in those times was also a "painter's painter", admired by many of his contemporaries, including Delacroix.

Cezanne must have been impressed by those horses as well - there is a drawing where he copyed Gericault's "chevaux de trait", "Arbeitspferde", as the Germans say;-)

Shane said...

All these horses have had their tails cut - and cut very short. Rather like the image of the sleeping dog with the docked tail. I've never seen anything like this and it looks rather strange to me. Does anyone understand why this would be, because it is all of them it seems.

Stephen and Nyree said...

A horses tail is docked to keep it from getting tangles in the harnesses and carts. A dogs tail is docked to keep it out of the way of cattle and horses, to reduce injury and death.

Lou said...


Looking at these little drawings I'm reminded that many pencil-pen-watercolor-goauche drawings/paintings made before the early twentieth century were pretty small overall even though many were finely detailed. I've concluded, perhaps wrongly, that well made drawing and watercolor paper was a precious (expensive) commodity in those days and that artists needed to economize by packing in as many images as practical on each sheet. Do you share the same belief or am I missing something that would better explain this?

Shane said...

Stephen and Nyree: thank you for the information. I had always thought docking a dogs tail was just an aesthetic style. Glad to know I was wrong.

James Gurney said...

Lou, That's a good question. I'm often surprised how small some sketchbooks and figure studies were. I don't have a very authoritative answer for you. My guess is that the precious value of the paper may have played a role, but also that people were just accustomed to smaller writing and smaller books, etc. Also, sketchbooks are a lot more practical to carry around when they're 5 x 7 inches or smaller. The idea of doing every drawing on an 18 x 24 paper clipped to a big flat board seems to be a more recent art school tradition.

James Gurney said...

Lou, I found an older post on the blog that discusses why the typical old master figure drawing is 7 inches high:

rock995 said...

Yes good post about the 7" figure

Juliet Harrison said...

Hi know me, nothing I like better then a fabulous horse painting. And these....just beautiful. I love seeing people recognizing the artistry in equine artwork. Great art is great art, no matter the subject.

Vladimir Venkov said...

Such beautiful studies... It is a shame he died so young. What an artist...
Btw I just got a book on drawing horses by Sam Savitt. I am sure you've come across his drawings, James. His studies are so beautiful and harmonious...