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French, Caught by the Tide

Key facts
Full title Caught by the Tide
Artist French
Date made about 1850
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 64.1 × 80.6 cm
Acquisition credit Bought by the Tate Gallery, 1932; transferred 1956
Inventory number NG4613
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Caught by the Tide

Threatened by a raging sea, two women cling to each other in distress while a boy waves an improvised flag, desperately calling for help. Foaming waves encircle their half-submerged rock. They could be the survivors of a shipwreck; caught by the tide, their lives are at the mercy of the elements. The women’s headdresses and boy’s trousers have been identified as mid-nineteenth-century Breton costumes, and the landscape is probably the rugged coastline of Brittany.

This painting was long thought to be by Théodore Géricault, an attribution now rejected. Yet it was no doubt executed by an artist familiar with Géricault’s poignant shipwreck pictures, including his Raft of the Medusa (Louvre, Paris). Its subject may also reflect the trend for paintings of Breton life and history that were fashionable in France in the 1850s. This picture might relate to the counter-Revolutionary insurrections that took place in Brittany in the 1790s, when republicans opposed Breton royalists. It may show royalist exiles abandoned to their chilling fate.

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