In August 2013 Wolfe von Lenkiewicz was painting The Raft of the Medusa on a large scale in Rome at 205 Via Tiburtina. He would take regular walks in between exhausting sessions on the monumental painting, past the catacombs.
The studio he used was 19th century and a Roman sculptor had formally worked there on monuments. At the time when Gericault was in Rome in 1817, he watched the race of the riderless horses down the via del Corso.
Writers such at Goethe would recollect the horses without riders racing the entire length of the street whilst people watched from their balconies. Gericault planned a giant painting as large as the Raft of the Medusa and found a deconsecrated church near the Roman catacombs, which at the time was not difficult due to Napoleon emptying the religious buildings. Lenkiewicz had read many scholarly articles on Gericault and all had agreed that the painting was not finished because the artist had caused a family scandal by having a child with his uncles wife.
This meant that he had to abandon the work and return to Paris. The sketches and drawings for the preparation of the painting were considerable; but the lost painting has always remained a mystery. Gericault historians believe that it was partly painted and then rolled up and abandoned – as he didn’t return to Italy it was subsequently lost. His horses would have been larger than George Stubbs Whistlejacket in the National Gallery, London, and just as finely painted with a romantic air of untethered ferocity.
The horses were documented as being over twice life-size. and the colouring was inspired by the works of Nicholas Poussin. While in Rome, Lenkiewicz decided to try and find the lost painting. He went down to the cities catacombs and found the location in which Gericault was said to have painted the horses. Pacing the street for a large premises, he found one church and went inside and discussed with the monks the possibility of the work being made there.
They allowed Lenkiewicz to go into the basement of the sacrisity to look for the rolled up canvas, but nothing was to be found. Lenkiewicz then decided he would repaint the work himself on the scale of the original as a reenactment in his Roman studio after he finished The Raft of the Medusa. He had bought original drawings by Gericault of the horses in Sothebys, Bond Street, London, and began a series of studies using references such as Raphael’s horse from The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple, nudes by Jacques-Louis David, horse studies by Gericault and a Claude Lorrain landscape to rebuild the work.
Following the design of a careful drawing by Gericault in the Louvre, Lenkiewicz stitched together these works to make an oil painting of The Race of the Barbari Horses, 1/10 the size of the original. This oil painting was carefully finished in time for the London solo show The Raft of the Medusa, framed in a gilt empire style design. The frame was made by one of the finest craftsman in England, John Davies Framing, who make frames for the old masters in Christies and the National Gallery. It is the same frame design Gericault would have used on some of his paintings.
Wolfe von Lenkiewicz
Recomposing Chardin, 2013
Oil on Canvas
85 x 70 cm