Géricault's fiery, daring personality and short life fit the mold of Romantic artists of his era and, along with his controversial paintings, profoundly influenced nineteenth-century art. Despite about three years of studio training, Géricault was largely self-taught. He copied paintings in the Louvre and traveled to Rome, where he discovered Michelangelo's works and the exuberance of Baroque art.
In his enormous Raft of the Medusa, now at the Louvre, Géricault mixed Realism and Romanticism, raising a contemporary event--a shipwreck with few survivors--to the dignity of monumental art. To achieve accuracy, he used a model of the raft and carefully studied real cadavers. Eugène Delacroix posed for one of the figures. The wreck was attributed to governmental negligence and corruption. The resulting controversy, combined with the painting's veracity, brought Géricault widespread attention.
Géricault died in 1824 after a prolonged illness caused by a riding accident. His last major works, discovered almost fifty years after his death, were penetrating portraits of the insane. Like the Raft of the Medusa, they offered a new concept of appropriate subject matter for serious painting.