... and then there was the French Romantic
painter, Théodore Géricault
(1791–1824), who went to extraordinary lengths to capture authenticity in the subject of his larger-than-life oil painting, The Raft of the Medusa
. Which was based on a contemporary scandal, the shipwreck of the Medusa in 1816.
Géricault so thoroughly immersed himself in researching the full horror of his subject matter that he became completely obsessed by it :
According to the art historian Georges-Antoine Borias, "Géricault established his studio across from Beaujon hospital. And here began a mournful descent. Behind locked doors he threw himself into his work. Nothing repulsed him. He was dreaded and avoided."
With particular attention to corpses:
To achieve the most authentic rendering of the flesh tones of the dead, he made sketches of bodies in the morgue of the Hospital Beaujon, studied the faces of dying hospital patients, brought severed limbs back to his studio to study their decay, and for a fortnight drew a severed head, borrowed from a lunatic asylum and stored on his studio roof.
According to my art teacher in high school, the smell emanating from his studio caused his neighbours to complain to the authorities. I don't know for certain whether this was actually true or not ... but it has always stayed in my mind whenever confronted with images of The Raft