This vigorous painting of six lions in a remote, spectrally illuminated lair—possibly intended to evoke the Atlas Mountains of Morocco—is an extraordinary example of Gericault’s spontaneous handling of paint. Rather than applying finishing touches to make a polished cabinet picture, the artist left the painting in a state known as an ébauche, a work prized for its strength of directly capturing a subject or effect. Until its acquisition by the Museum, the composition was known only by means of a replica (Musée du Louvre, Paris), which is thought to have been painted by an artist in Gericault’s circle.
Jean-Georges Schickler, Paris (until d. 1843); his son, baron Arthur de Schickler, Paris (1843–d. 1919); Schickler family, by descent (until 2010; sold through a European art dealer to Sayn-Wittgenstein); [Sayn-Wittgenstein Fine Art, New York, 2010–11; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art [The Met Breuer]. "Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible," March 18–September 4, 2016, unnumbered cat. (colorpl. 95).
Charles Clément. "Catalogue de l'œuvre de Gericault—Peinture." Gazette des beaux-arts 23 (September 1, 1867), p. 281, no. 64, under the heading "Peintures (1812 à 1816)," calls it "Lions," 47 x 58 1/2 cm, describes it as "trois lions et trois lionnes accroupis ou couchés près de débris et d'ossements," and locates it in the Schickler collection.
Charles Clément. Géricault: étude biographique et critique avec le catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre du maître. 2nd ed. (1st ed. 1867). Paris, 1868, p. 293, no. 68.
Charles Clément. Géricault, étude biographique et critique avec le catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre du maitre. 3rd ed. (1st ed. 1867). Paris, 1879, p. 293, no. 68, [in the "Supplement" by Lorenz Eitner appended to the reprint edition of Clément 1879 (New York, 1974, p. 451, no. 68), it is suggested that the work described by Clément might be Bazin 1997, no. 2357].
Philippe Grunchec inTout l'oeuvre peint de Gericault. Paris, 1978, p. 109–10, no. 144, ill., calls it "Lions couchés," in a private collection, Paris; identifies it as Clément 1879, no. 68, stating that this connection and the quality of execution attest to its authenticity; considers the version in the Louvre (no. 144A) weak by comparison.
Germain Bazin with documentation by Élisabeth Raffy. Théodore Géricault, étude critique, documents et catalogue raisonné. Vol. 7, Regard social et politique: Le séjour anglais et les heures de souffrance. Paris, 1997, pp. 32–33, 153, no. 2354, ill., calls it "Groupe de lions" and catalogues it as author unknown, the result of his not having seen it in person, but notes the high regard in which Grunchec [Ref. 1978] held this work.
Asher Ethan Miller inUnfinished: Thoughts Left Visible. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art [The Met Breuer]. New York, 2016, pp. 135, 291, colorpl. 95, states that its underlying subject is rooted in both the artist's imagination and the eighteenth-century idea of the Sublime; notes the artist's spontaneous approach, employing a rough wood board and no studies, and leaving it in the state of an "ébauche".