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The raft of the Medusa. 21 th Issue



Dear friends, I hope you benefited from a successful summer, the vacation has now ended. You will be able again to benefit from some new texts as this blog will continue to be issued.

After twenty items published in the last twelve months, a second year starts with many subjects illustrating the work of the painter Alfred Courmes. The “sirenas of Courmes” have been with you all along the summer, they are still there on the “raft” that Courmes imagined.




 “The raft of the Medusa”, 1963, oil on canvas (200 x 255 cm) private ownership.©adagp




The raft of the Medusa”, 1963, ink, gouache and water colour(25 x 31,5 cm) Private ownership ©adagp



Some history:



Alain Bombard


French Doctor and biologist (Paris 1924 – Toulon 2005)


In 1951, while working at the hospital of Boulogne-sur-Mer, he lives the dramatic consequences of a shipwreck in which 43 sailors die at a small distance of the port.

Little by little, he becomes convinced that many deaths could be avoided if ships were equipped with adequate salvage equipments, and if simple formation and information were prescribed in case of fall of men at sea. During six months, he devotes himself to the study of salvage boats and equipments, to chemical analysis of sea waters, to research on the breeding power of  plankton and fish flesh to ascertain their nutritive value. He reaches a number of conclusions, but to demonstrate his theories, he wants to live himself as a shipwreck victim     

who must rely only on sea resources. That is why he starts at first to cross the Mediterranean sea with a travel companion on a pneumatic raft, inflated and equipped with a sail. The two voluntaries feed themselves only with plankton in small quantities, bringing to them the minimum ration of C vitamin, avoiding scorbutic effects, and with the fish that they catch.

These fish bring also drinking water: Alain Bombard had made laboratory experiences showing that by pressing the flesh, it was possible to extract the juice that it contained.

To remain sufficiently hydrated, they also drink sea water in limited quantities at long time intervals.


After the Mediterranean sea, Alain Bombard risks himself on the Atlantic. He wants to prove that survival at sea is possible during some weeks, possibly some months. He is alone this time, on his raft named “The Heretic”. He leaves Tangiers on a 13th of August and reaches without problem the Great Canary Island after eleven days at sea. He is back on the sea on the 19th of October, has to suffer a big storm and sees his sail half damaged. But he succeeds in doing minimum repairs, and continues on his way. There are plenty of fish, particularly

sea breams. After sixty five days, he arrives at last in sight of BarbadosIsland. He has crossed the Atlantic without using a safety stock of food kept on board The Heretic in a sealed bag, but he has lost twenty five kilos of weight, his feet nails, and has severe skin eruptions and eyes problems. The story of his crossing, Naufragé volontaire, published in 1953, represents a valuable testimony on survival conditions at sea. 






The raft of the small azteque Medusa” 1963/1987, oil on canvas (114 x 146 cm) Private ownership. ©adagp



Some culture:


“The raft of the Medusa” is an oil painting on canvas, made by the French romantic painter Théodore Géricault (1791 – 1824). The initial title given by Géricault on its first presentation, is Scenery of a shipwreck. This very large painting (491 cm by height and 716 cm wide) represents a tragical event of the French Marine : the shipwreck of the frigate Medusa after being stranded on sands away from the present coast of Mauritania, on the 2nd of July, 1816.

At least 147 persons will endeavour to keep alive on a raft, but only fifteen shall survive and embark onboard the Argus, a ship coming to their rescue, after having fought against hunger, lack of drinking water, madness and even cannibalism. This event became a scandal at international level, partly because the French captain, a noble placed there by the newly installed monarchy, and judged responsible for the shipwreck, was totally unable in his position.


More details: link to Wikipédia



“The raft of the Medusa”, T Géricault, 1818/19, oil on canvas (491 x 716 cm). Le Louvre Museum 



Some mythology:

From the union of two marine god and goddess, Phorcys and Ceto, came to earth the Gorgons, three girls named Sthéno (the strong one), Euryale (the world wanderer) and Medusa (the sly one). Sthéno and Euryale were immortals and Medusa mortal.

These sisters were famous due to their absolute beauty, in particular Medusa, who had  magnificent hair. Poseidon, the sea god, fell in love with her and took her as his wife in a temple devoted to Athena. Athena felt this as an insult and decided to transform the Gorgons in horrible monsters : their hair was changed into a mass of serpents, their mouths showed teeth of wild pigs, their fingers were replaced by bronze  claws and wings with gold cover appeared on their backs.

As from that time, the Gorgons were feared by men and Gods because anyone looking at their eyes was suddenly changed into a stone statue. Nevertheless, Persea, son of Zeus and Danae, succeeded in making Medusa surrender without being transformed into a stone statue. Athena led his hand and lent him her shield polished like a mirror so that Persea could see the reflexion of Medusa without being reached by her direct sight and Hermes gave him a sword that did not bend nor break.

Thanks to these valuable helps, Persea succeeded in cutting Medusa’s head. But she was pregnant, and from her body appeared the sons of Poseidon, Chrysoar and Pegasus, the horse with wings.




63 Le radeau de la méduse (sirène)(2) gou1963439.jpg63 Le radeau de la méduse (sirène) gou1963438.jpg63 Le radeau de la méduse (tête de la méduse) gou1963438.jpg

Studies for “The raft of the Medusa”, 1963 and 1964, ink and gouache, private ownership. ©adagp




63 Le radeau de la méduse (4) min1963442.jpggra1964524.jpg

Drawing for”The raft of the Medusa”, 1964, lead pencil (24 x 31 cm) private ownership. ©adagp


“The raft of the Medusa”, 1964, etching  ( 25 x 31,5 cm). ©adagp



Some humor:



“The legionnaire Asterix”, R. Goscinny and A. Uderzo, 1967



To know more:


“The raft of the Medusa”, 1963, has been shown:

 -         1963, 19th Salon de Mai, Museum of modern art of Paris, from April 28th to May 19th.

-         1979, Retrospective, PaintingsMuseum, Grenoble, from May 16th to August 20th.

-         1986, Private exhibition, Jean Briance Gallery, April 10th to May 31st. (61 paintings, drawings and water-colour, Paris.

-         1989, Retrospective at Issoudun from October 21st to December 17th .



“The raft of the Medusa”, 1963, was quoted in following publications:

-         Jean-Marc Campagne, Alfred COURMES, Prospecteur de Mirages entre ciel et chair, photographs by Robert Doisneau, Jacqueline Hyde, Marc Vaux, Eric Losfeld publisher, 1973, page 71.

-         Vitalie ANDRIVEAU - Gilles Bernard, Alfred COURMES, foreword by Michel Onfray, cherche-midi publisher, 2003, page 133.


The studies for « The raft of the Medusa », 1963, have been shown :

-         1979, Retrospective, Museum of paintings, from May 16th to August 20th, Grenoble.

-         1979, Private exhibition, Jean Briance Gallery, from October 4th to November 24th, (41 drawings and drafts) Paris.


The studies for “the raft of the Medusa”, 1963, were quoted in following publications:

Vitalie Andriveau – Gilles Bernard, Alfred COURMES, foreword by Michel Onfray, cherche-midi publisher, 2003, pages 130 – 132.


“The raft of the small azteque Medusa”, 1963/1987, has been shown:


-         1988, 43th Salon de Mai, Great Palace, from May 10th to 29th, Paris

-         1989, Retrospective, Saint Roch hospital Museum, from October 21st to December 17th, Issoudun.


“The raft of the small azteque Medusa”, 1963/1987, was quoted in following publications :


-         Vitalie Andriveau- Gilles Bernard, Alfred COURMES, foreword by Michel Onfray, cherche-midi editor, 2003, page 173.


“The raft of the Medusa” (etching) 1964, has been shown: 


1986, private exhibition of engravings, Berggruen Gallery, Paris:

10 engravings drafted in 1964,

35 engravings signed and numerotated, and two artist selections done in 1986.  


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