Tête d’homme guillotiné (1818-1819)

Géricault, Théodore (1791-1824)

Tête d’homme guillotiné (Head of a Guillotined Man)
Oil on panel, 48.5 × 29.6 cm
Art Institute of ChicagoChicago

Théodore Géricault painted this macabre image directly from life. The artist is known to have acquired corpses from his local morgue to study anatomy and the effects of decomposition. Surrounding himself with the stench of decay, he produced several paintings of decapitated heads and severed limbs. By depicting this graying and lifeless head upon on a blood-stained cloth laid over a wooden table, Géricault also referenced—perhaps ironically—the long history of still-life painting in Western art. The head probably belonged to a convicted criminal. At that time in France, executions were carried out by the guillotine, a bladed device that sliced through the necks of its victims. (AIC)