John Reynolds

Raft of the Medusa

Raft of the Medusa by John Reynolds

Artwork Detail

Raft of the Medusa is one of the numerous large-scale paintings John Reynolds has based on epic Romantic subject matter. These big-hearted works reach for the archaic and the mythic in an age that is simultaneously ultra-rational and prone to hysterical self-deceptions. The title comes from Theodore Géricault's 1819 painting of shipwreck survivors. As Géricault's painting was also the basis for L. J. Steele and C. F. Goldie's The Arrival of the Maoris in New Zealand, painted in 1898. Some have seen a connection between this work and Reynolds', but rather than an authentic account of Polynesian migration, the Steele and Goldie work is a European fiction, a collection of ethnological specimens framed by the history of Western art and colonialism. The central motif in Reynolds' painting has been likened to a Polynesian form, a tattoo design or abstracted canoe, though it is in fact a much enlarged marginal decoration from a medieval manuscript. This pictorial mutability suggests a global traffic in cultural history and imagery. A further telescoping of history occurs through the contiguity of a rendering of Leonardo da Vinci's lily and a chrysanthemum - the one McCahon appropriated - by Piet Mondrian. However we read their details, Reynolds' big paintings assert the ongoing, unruly drama of creative invention played out between the questing individual's wild gesturing and the dark shadings of an historical imagination. (from The Guide, 2001)

Raft of the Medusa
John Reynolds
Production date
mixed media on plywood
2400 x 6000 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the Patrons of the Auckland Art Gallery, 1993
Accession no
Copying restrictions apply
New Zealand Art
Display status
Not on display

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