An Eye For Mental Illness


From Ferris Jabr’s round-up “A Brief History of Mental Illness in Art,” Kate Davey features the work of Théodore Géricault:

Géricault’s Monomaniac series once consisted of ten portraits of the mentally ill, however, only five have survived into the present day. The surviving paintings include the Monomanie du commandment militaire (Napoleonic veteran suffering from the delusion of military authority), Monomanie du vol des enfants (A compulsive kidnapper), Monomanie du vol (A kleptomaniac), Monomanie du jeu (A compulsive gambler) and Monomanie de l’envie (A woman suffering fits of neurotic jealousy).

The term ‘monomania’ was first coined by French psychiatrist Jean-Etienne Esquirol, and it was an exclusively nineteenth century term referring to a person who was outwardly well, but harboured one obsessive fixation. The portraits themselves and the context within which they were painted raise many questions regarding the state of psychiatry and the treatment of the mentally ill at the time, the public’s view of the mentally ill, the progression of science and the morbidity and tragedy that art encompassed during this period. The reason for the portrait’s creation can be interpreted in a number of ways, ranging from the rarer thought that it was encouraged as a therapeutic exercise for Géricault by his psychiatrist, to the more widely received idea that the paintings were produced as part of a commission from psychiatrist Dr Etienne-Jean Georget.

Many more Géricault portraits here.

(Image: La Monomane de l’envie, Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault, c. 1822, via Wikimedia Commons)