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Painting Analysis of the “Trumpeter of the Hussars,” by Theodore Gericault

Dear <<First Name>>,

Have you ever thought about how the composition of a painting can reinforce a psychological idea, thus shifting a work of art from merely a visual recording of a scene to something that evokes a multitude of ideas, feelings, and opinions?


c. 1815–20

Oil on canvas

37 13/16 x 28 1/4 in. (96 x 71.8 cm), Original dimensions: 28 3/8 x 22 13/16 in. (72 x 58 cm)

This painting by Gericault is such an example. When I first observed this painting before reading the placard associated with it, I was struck by feelings of loss and confusion. I was no longer just observing a painting, but instead, I was also thinking about my own experiences in which I felt disconnected and alone. In this painting the stark visual isolation of the main figure and his horse from their immediate surroundings is the dramatic expression of the composition.  Once I realized how the painting had altered my internal feelings, I began to think about the power of this composition.

Then I read about the painting on its placard: “This figure’s uniform identifies him as a member of the hussars — notoriously fearless cavalry — in the French army. He sits astride his horse, at a distance from the raging battle, with his trumpet at his side. Trumpeters needed visibility to sound a charge or retreat, yet his isolation may also symbolize the widespread disillusionment with the French military after the fall of Napoleon in 1815.”

Gericault used this painting to express his feelings about the fall of the French military, so when he painted it, contemporaries viewing this painting would probably relate to the geopolitical attitudes of the day. However, 200 years later it still inspires in me a sense of isolation and disconnectedness.  It is this ability to evoke emotions that makes a painting a true work of art.

Let’s look at this painting from a technical standpoint and explore the idea of how the isolation of a two-dimensional shape on the picture plane can conjure up feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Items of note that emphasize the singularity of the hussar:

  • Only the hussar and horse are rendered in dramatic light and shadow with saturated colors of red and blue.
  • Edge quality of the hussar and horse is sharp and defined, almost cutting them out in relief compared to the soft and hazy surroundings.
  • Scale of the hussar and horse in comparison to the other soldiers in the lower left is dramatically different.
  • The light on the hussar is stark where the background is cloudy and gray, which evokes a sense of a storm brewing, which in turn can imply the anxiety building in the hussar.

These are just a few of the components that help to reinforce and evoke the feelings Gericault was likely hoping to express with this painting.

Today I would like you to look critically at a painting that evokes strong emotion in you, and take a moment to analyze the painting.

  • Think about the big shapes.
  • Think about color and value.
  • Think about edge quality.

Then decide which visual effects reinforce the feelings the painting evokes in you.

There is a world of growth to be found in analyzing paintings you admire. The lessons learned can then be applied to your own work.

Thank you for your time.

With warm regards,


Two Openings are available in the
Winter Term Semi-Private Art Lessons
in my Home Studio

Winter term starts Saturday, January 6th at 9:30am
To learn more please visit the webpage, and feel free to email me with any questions.
Copyright © 2017 eLIZabeth Floyd Fine Art, All rights reserved.

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