Magazine article USA TODAY

Girodet: France's Romantic Rebel

Magazine article USA TODAY

Girodet: France's Romantic Rebel

Article excerpt

ANNE-LOUIS GIRODET de Roussy-Trioson, or Girodet as he commonly is referred to, was much admired in his own time, although he is not especially well known to the American public. Girodet (1767-1824) was a painter of genius, but also a rebel bent on confounding expectations. His literary sophistication, preference for the bizarre, and ambiguous eroticism, as well as the mysteries surrounding his life and relations, have remained a source of fascination and bewilderment. Girodet created a painting style very much his own--combining intellectual refinement and sensuality.

Girodet's career was shaped profoundly by the dramatic social and political upheaval brought about by the French Revolution, which ignited in 1789. A rebellious pupil of Jacques-Louis David during the 1780s, Girodet early on developed his own idiosyncratic style. David's Neoclassicism, the prevalent artistic movement of this period, was intended--in its antique subjects and rigid style--to invoke the stoic ideals of Republican or Imperial Rome. The young Girodet approached such subjects and worked in this manner on propagandistic history paintings.

After a period of study and practice in Rome, he broke free of his teacher's influence, creating highly imaginative compositions that he hoped would surpass David in their intensity of artistic expression. He asserted his independence in an austere "Pieta" (1790), painted from a provincial monastery. His final break with David, however, manifested itself in the mythological "The Sleep of Endymion" (1791), exhibited to great acclaim at the Paris Salon in 1793.

Girodet continued to eschew the rationalism of the Neoclassical style in which he was trained in favor of a more imaginative mode, ranging from the spectral vision of "Ossian Receiving the Ghosts of the French Heroes" (1801), commissioned for Napoleon's retreat at Malmaison, to the apocalyptic "Scene from a Deluge" (1806). This monumental canvas, depicting three generations of a family balanced precariously over floodwaters, secured Girodet's ultimate triumph over David--in 1810, it was named the best history painting of the decade over David's "Intervention of the Sabine Women" (1799).

Like many of David's students, Girodet commemorated Napoleon's regime in portraits as well as history paintings. …

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