Though he died young at 32, through the course of his brief career Théodore Géricault managed to establish himself as one of the pioneers of French romanticism. Born in 1791, he moved with his parents to Paris in 1796 and there received his schooling at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand. He first received encouragement (though little in the way of tuition) from Carle Vernet. In 1810 he entered the studio of Pierre Guérin where he briefly crossed paths with Eugène Delacroix but, impatient with the rigours of a formal training, remained only a matter of months. He then spent a period of some four years copying in the Louvre, drawing inspiration from the works of the renaissance and baroque in which he discovered an energy lacking in contemporary neo-classicism.
In 1812 Géricault was awarded a gold medal at the salon for his Charging chasseur (Louvre Collection), inspired by Napoleonic nationalism. After a spell serving as a royal cavalry officer in 1814-15, Géricault made a determined effort to instill a greater classical discipline into his work. He failed to qualify for the Rome prize (prix de Rome) in 1816, but nevertheless made the trip to Rome at his own expense and remained there for about a year.
In 1817, swept up in a burgeoning interest in lithography amongst Parisian artist circles, Géricault produced his first lithographs, which along with Delacroix would be the first outstanding examples of the medium. His celebrated print The boxers 1818 depicts the rippling bodies of two protagonists, one black and one white, dramatically circling each other in the open air like mirrored reflections of each other.
Géricault’s greatest masterpiece, the Raft of the Medusa (Louvre collection), a monumental canvas based on the sensational recent story of survival following a shipwreck, was exhibited at the salon of 1819 and in the following year in London. Géricault remained in London until the end of 1821. While he was there he made a series of 12 prints capturing a range of genre subjects from beggars, the urban poor and the work of farriers, such as The Flemish farrier 1821 to depictions of draft horses and thoroughbreds. When he returned to Paris, barely turned 30, his health was already in decline and he died three years later. The most remarkable works from his last years are a series of portraits of the insane.