Look at madness

Look at madness


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  • The crazy monomaniac of the Game.

    GERICAULT Théodore (1791 - 1824)

  • The mad monomaniac of Envy.

    GERICAULT Théodore (1791 - 1824)

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Title: The crazy monomaniac of the Game.

Author : GERICAULT Théodore (1791 - 1824)

School : Romanticism

Creation date : 1822

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 77 - Width 64.5

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage place: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot website

Picture reference: 91EE1563 / RF 1938-51

The crazy monomaniac of the Game.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

To close

Title: The mad monomaniac of Envy.

Author : GERICAULT Théodore (1791 - 1824)

School : Romanticism

Creation date : 1820

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 78 - Width 58

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage place: Lyon Museum of Fine Arts website

Contact copyright: © Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon - Photo Studio Basset

The mad monomaniac of Envy.

© Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon - Photo Studio Basset

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

These two canvases belong to a set of ten portraits of the insane (including five currently lost or destroyed) painted by Géricault around 1820.

The execution of these works seems to follow a nervous breakdown from which the artist suffered in the fall of 1819. Géricault was then treated by Doctor Georget, for whom he produced these paintings.

Image Analysis

The titles of these works reveal the classification made at the time of the various forms of madness. They were then called "manias" or "monomanies", evoking the psychic and obsessive fixation of a patient on a single object. This classification, abandoned in the second half of the XIXe century, gave birth to other names, such as "delirium of persecution", "madness of grandeur", "delirium of jealousy" ...

But these images of madness are not the first in the history of art (cf. Goya). This theme was to know a great development with the romantic generation to which Géricault belonged. However, the peculiarity of these paintings lies in the fact that they are the first quasi-scientific representation of the mentally ill in painting; as if Géricault were carrying out a sort of clinical analysis of the characters.

The two “monomaniacs” are represented seated, frontally, half-length and against a dark background. No accessory or superfluous detail comes to burden the composition or distract the viewer's gaze; this one inevitably goes towards the face of the character and towards his blank gaze. Detail that reminds us that in the XIXe century, the study of madness was largely linked to phrenology and physiognomy.

Moreover, these two portraits of the insane (like the eight others in the series) are remarkably realistic, coupled with great objectivity in the observation. This has prompted historians to advance several hypotheses. A first according to which Dr. Georget would have proposed the execution of these paintings to Géricault for therapeutic purposes (to cure him of his depression). And a second, more convincing, according to which Dr. Georget ordered these paintings, from the healed artist, to illustrate his theories and his demonstrations, which saved him from bringing the sick to the amphitheatres where he taught.

Interpretation

Whatever the purpose of these portraits, they are undeniably unique documents about a moment in the history of psychiatry and the apprehension of insanity.

In fact, we are witnessing an essential change in the treatment of lunatics, now considered as sick and treated as such - and no longer as elements of public disorder. Doctor Georget (1795-1828), following his master, Étienne Esquirol (1772-1840), is one of those who favored this development.

This progress is however attenuated by the fact that the diagnosis of madness is then linked to physiognomy and phrenology. Physiognomy, whose scientific bases date back to Lavater's work in the 18th centurye century and which dominated the popular imagination in the first half of the 19e century, presupposes a correspondence between the moral character and the physical traits of a person. As for phrenology (which was then very successful), it was based on the idea that the source of mental illness was the brain. These two theories have since been largely outdated: we know today that there is no somatic mental illness, any more than there is a physiognomy peculiar to madness.

Finally, these works also announce the growing interest aroused by the unconscious (under the influence of psychiatry) among a group of artists and writers in the years 1840-1850: Baudelaire, Courbet, Gautier, Grandville and Nodier .

  • madness
  • disease
  • medicine
  • portrait
  • Goya (Francisco de)

Bibliography

G. BAZIN, Theodore Gericault. Critical study, documents and catalog raisonné, t. IV, Genius and Madness. The Raft of the Medusa and the Monomanes, Paris, Wildenstein Institute, 1994.

T. CROWN, David’s Workshop. Emulation and Revolution, Paris, Gallimard, NRF, 1997.

COLLECTIVE, Soul in the Body, Arts and Sciences, 1893-1993, catalog of the exhibition in Paris, Paris, RMN, 1993.

To cite this article

Nadine FATTOUH-MALVAUD, “Regard sur la folie”


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