Jean-Louis Andre Theodore Gericault was born on September 1791, in Rouen, France. In his early life, he was taught by English painter Carle Vernet, in English sporting art tradition as well as classical figure composition, under Pierre-Narcisse Guerin. He would leave the classroom very soon, preferring to study at the Louvre instead. This period was from 1810 to 1815, when Gericault would copy many paintings, especially by Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Velazquez.
These influences are notable in Gericault's work, especially by Rubens. He exhibited his first major painting, An Officer of the Chasseurs Commanding a Charge, in the Paris Salon of 1812 and was well received. Horses and Cavalrymen were a recurring theme in Gericault's paintings, and he would make several studies of them. His next artwork exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1814, The Wounded Cuirassier, would not be received so well as the first. Out of disappointment, Gericault joined the army and served in the Versailles for some time.
One of his most ambitious and acclaimed painting, The Raft of the Medusa, depicts a real contemporary event of a French shipwreck, which the captain left his crew and passengers to die. It shows Gericault refinement on composition and dramatic potency and may be regarded as a bridge between Neo-Classicism to Romanticism. The painting was praised, critically acclaimed, and ignited political controversy as well.
In 1821, Gericault began working on a series of portraits of mentally ill people, patients of his friend Etienne-Jean Georget, an important psychiatrist. There were originally ten portraits, but only five remain, including The Mad Woman. These paintings are a potent document of psychological discomfort and are noteworthy for their expressive realism and style. They surely are empowered by Gericault's own background, for himself had fragile mental health as well as a history of insanity in his family. His studies were not limited to living human beings, and he also painted a number of remarkable still-lifes of severed human limbs.
At the end of his life, Gericault's efforts were focused on studies for several vast and epic compositions, including African Slave Trade and Opening of the Doors of the Spanish Inquisition. The preparatory drawing for these paintings suggests they were works of considerable proportion and ambition, but Gericault's health weakened preventing him from finishing the job. Gericault died in January 1824, in Paris.