A this period of several years the artist would produce endless study drawings and paintings around the same theme, namely sailing disasters with a dark, moody atmosphere. An ambitious Gericault would practice elements of each painting on multiple occassions before commencing each of the larger painted canvases. He would also learn and develop ideas from one painting to the next.

The Rainbow by DH Lawrence
The Rainbow by DH Lawrence

This particular painting can also be found in the Louvre, along with its better known sister painting of The Raft of the Medusa, and many elements of each composition are noticeably similar. In fact, it takes a much closer look before you can start to genuinely distinguish between the two, with several items in the foreground and background being depicted slightly differently, or left out completely.

The detail shown in the larger image below includes a ship travelling past in the very far background as well as an alternative depiction of the damaged sail compared to the Medusa. The arrangement of figures is also slightly different, as is the angle of the damaged raft on which they float. Perhaps the scene found in this painting is a little simpler, displaying plenty of emotion and movement but without quite the same feeling of desperation as with its better known sister painting.

To see the two works together in the Louvre allows us to compare the small differences with our own eyes. To the untrained eye, the differences are not significant, but art historians will be able to track many conscious decisions made by Gericault as he moved from one painting to the next. Both were supplemented by considerable numbers of study drawings.

Sighting the Argus in Detail Theodore Gericault