Theodore Gericault was born in Rouen of well-to-do parents. In 1808 he became the pupil of Carle Vernet, but left him after two years ('One of my horses would have devoured six of his,' he said) for Guerin, in whose studio Delacroix was also a pupil. He was strongly influenced by Gros, particularly in his painting of horses, and his choice of contemporary subjects. His technical innovations, too, are noteworthy: he abandoned the use of detailed preparatory drawings and squared-up studies, painting directly on to the final canvas from models posed according to a painted sketch.
During the Hundred Days (of Napoleon's return from exile, 1815), he was so disgusted by the desertion of the troops of Louis XVIII who went back to Napoleon that he joined the Musketeers and accompanied the fleeing King to the Belgian frontier. Later, he regretted this and sided with the liberal opponents of the Restored Monarchy, an alignment reflected in many of his drawings (scenes from the Greek Wars of Independence, anti-slavery subjects, the ending of the Inquisition) and particularly in his most celebrated work, the Raft of the 'Medusa', a shipwreck which was based on an incident which was the political scandal of the day (1819: Louvre). The picture is also notable in that its subject is contemporary history treated in the Grand Manner. In 1816 he visited Italy for a year, and in 1820-22 he was in England, where his Raft was shown in a travelling exhibition. During this long stay, he made many lithographs of horses and scenes of the poverty in the London streets, as well as small paintings of horses and racing subjects. His influence on the development of the Romantic movement exceeded what might have been expected from his total of no more than three exhibited works, a few portraits and horse pictures, and his lithographs and drawings. But his art, as much as that of Gros and Rubens, was one of the starting points for the young Delacroix, who admired him deeply: Gericault's copy of Titian's St Peter Martyr (then temporarily in the Louvre) later belonged to Delacroix (it is now in Basle).
In 1822-3 he painted a series of ten movingly realistic portraits of inmates of the Paris asylum of the Salpetriere, of which only five survive (Ghent, Louvre, Lyons, Springfield Mass., Winterthur). They were inspired by his friend, the alienist Georget, a follower of Pinel in the humane treatment of the insane, but the idea behind them - that certain types of physiognomy accompany certain kinds of insanity - has now been abandoned: they may have been intended to be engraved as illustrations for a treatise by Georget.
There are works in Alencon, Baltimore (Walters), Bayonne, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Buffalo, Cambridge (Fitzwm), Cambridge Mass. (Fogg), Glasgow (Burrell), London (Wallace Coll.), Montpellier, Munich, New York (Met. Mus.), Northampton Mass. (Smith Coll.), Paris (Louvre), Providence RI, Richmond Va, Rouen, Stockholm (gruesome Heads of Guillotined Men), Washington (NG) and Zurich.
Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)
Gericault: Cat & Dog Picture Store