At the age of nineteen, Théodore Gericault entered the Parisian studio of Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, a successful follower of Jacques-Louis David. In Guérin's studio the young Gericault would have refined his skills by drawing from antique statues and casts in the Louvre and then after the live model as a preliminary to full-scale works.
The Nude Warrior with a Spear is a bold presentation of the male nude that to Gericault's contemporaries would have recalled an "académie," or sketch that was executed as an exercise and meant to serve as inspiration for later, more finished, compositions. In this work however, Gericault has transformed his exercise into a finished easel painting. The model's right leg, spear, and left arm constitute three parallel diagonals, and the body itself is divided into a series of interlocked triangles as can be seen in the bent right arm and left thigh. The power of the figure, however, is communicated through the head, averted from the viewer, and gazing into a barren landscape. The contrast of the figure's virile form against the empty landscape can be understood as a romantic metaphor for the defeat of France, whose vast energies were funneled into the world of the imagination following the Napoleonic wars.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication French Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I: Before Impressionism, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/french-paintings-nineteenth-century.pdf
Said to have been owned by Phillipe Comairas [1803-1875] and to have passed through the ownership of Dr. Foucault and his brother-in-law, M. de Cuvillon. Léon Abel Gaboriaud, Paris, by 1919; (his sale, Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 17 May 1950, no. 6, bought in); sold 1950 to (Julius H. Weitzner [1896-1986] New York); sold 10 October 1950 to Chester Dale [1883-1962], New York; bequest 1963 to NGA.
- Exposition d'oeuvres de Gericault, Hôtel Jean Charpentier, Paris, 1924, no. 5
- Gericault, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, 1924, no. 5
- Chefs-d'oeuvre de l'art français, Palais National des Arts, Paris, 1937, no. 331, repro. Album
- Gericault, peintre et dessinateur, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, 1937, no. 2
- La Pintura Francesa de David a nuestros días, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, 1939, no. 61
- La Pintura Francesa de David a nuestros días, Salon Nacional de Bella Artes, Montevideo, 1939, no. 29
- Exposiçao de Pintura Francesa, seculos XIX e XX, Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, Rio de Janiero, 1940, no. 44
- The Painting of France since the French Revolution, M.H. De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, December 1940-January 1941; November 1941-January 1942, no. 44, repro.
- French Painting from David to Toulouse-Lautrec, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1941, no.56
- Masterpieces of French Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1941, no.68
- The Painting of France since the French Revolution, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1941, no. 56
- The Chester Dale Bequest, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1965, unnumbered checklist.
- French Romanticism, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1979, unnumbered checklist.
- Blanc, Charles. Histoire des peintres français au dix-neuvième siècle. Paris, 1845: 442.
- Regamey, Raymond. "Hommage à Géricault." Les Cahiers du mois (31 July 1924): 405.
- Trevise, duc de. "L'Exposition Géricault." L'Illustration (3 May 1924): 405.
- Regamey, Raymond. Géricault. Paris, 1926: 13.
- Gautier, Maximilien. Gericault. Paris, 1935: pl. 14.
- McBride. Henry. "Chesterdale's Way." Art News 51, no. 9 (December 1952): 18.
- Eitner, Lorenz. "Deux oeuvres inconnues de Gericault." Bulletin des Musées Royaux des beaux-arts (Brussels) 2, no. 2 (1953): 58.
- Nedra, Pierre. "Géricault et ses amis." Arcadie (November 1956): 36.
- Prokofiev, N.V. Géricault. Moscow, 1963: 52.
- Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Paintings & Sculpture of the French School in the Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 22, repro.
- Summary Cataogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 56.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 49, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 150, repro.
- Grunchec, Philippe. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Gericault (Les classiques de l'art). Paris, 1978: 106, no. 124.
- Eitner, Lorenz. "The Literature of Art. Review of Grunchec, Géricault." The Burlington Magazine 122, no. 924 (March 1980): 210.
- Eitner, Lorenz. Gericault, his Life and Work. London, 1983: 91, 92, 334 n. 131, pl. 18.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 173, repro.
- Bazin, Germain. Théodore Gericault, étude critique, documents et catalogue raisonné 7 vols. Paris, 1987-1997: 2(1987):364, no. 125.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 177, repro. (not in 1995 rev. ed.).
- Eitner, Lorenz. French Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I: Before Impressionism. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2000: 254-261, repro.