Happy birthday to “Raft of the Medusa” artist Théodore Géricault

Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault was born on this day in 1791. From his beginnings in Rouen, Normandy to his studies at the Louvre and eventual status as one of France’s leading Romantics, Géricault painted and sketched common life, rugged everymen, and equestrian scenes with uncommon power.

But it was The Raft of the Medusa, his greatest work, that defined his place in history. The monumental painting is equal parts a real-life 1816 scene—depicting a crew abandoned at sea by its captain—and loaded political statement—decrying aristocracy and hoisting a young black passenger as its central symbol of hope. Géricault tragically died from excess and tuberculosis at just 33, but, lucky for us, had produced his masterwork six years earlier—an incredible feat for such a young artist.