Le Sommeil des Paysans (c.1808-1812)

Géricault, Théodore (1791-1824)

Le Sommeil des Paysans (The Sleep of the Peasants)
Oil on wood panel, 77.5 x 57.1 cm
Princeton University Art MuseumPrinceton

Impatient with studio routine, Géricault spent four years teaching himself by copying paintings in the Musée Napoléon—the Musée du Louvre, at the time augmented with art looted across Europe—and in other collections. He copied many known works, especially by Venetian artists, but the original he copied here has eluded identification. It might have been by Jacopo Bassano (1510–1592), an artist renowned for landscapes and genre scenes. Among the suggested subjects are Sleeping Apostles and The Parable of the Tares (in Jesus’s parable, a farmer’s enemy sows tares, a weed, among wheat seeds while the farmer sleeps, but the wheat will be harvested and the tares destroyed—a metaphor for the Last Judgment). Lacking an instructor and with a love of experimentation, Géricault used colors containing bitumen, an innovation of the time that produced rich autumnal effects when fresh but darkened to a tar-like color with age. (PUAM)