Throughout history, art has represented many and varied scenes from epic battles to representations of emotions or even inanimate beings such as rivers, passing of course through the typical portraits or still lifes, despite the collection of works that we present in this entry is one of the most striking since rarely a series of works have been dedicated to mental illness. It is true that since the Middle Ages or even in the Renaissance period, some authors had already dedicated their canvases to mental illness – a good example of this could be the well-known work of Bosch, The extraction of the stone of madness- but never before have various mental illnesses been raised as the central theme of a pictorial series.
A similar particularity could only arise in the romantic stage when painting begins to express the inner life of man, a man tormented and worried about death; who lives in a society that he deeply dislikes for focusing only on the material and not realizing the transience of life. Thus, the series that we find are works by one of the most outstanding romantic painters of his time, Théodore Gericault.
Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault, better known simply as Gericault (1791 – 1824) represents the ideal of a Romantic painter, a tormented French successful andwith a tragic premature death. Born into a we althy family, his beginnings in art would be in the workshop of Carle Vernet to later enter the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris. Despite the fact that in the first years of his artistic education the painter achieved several successes, he was unable to obtain the scholarship to travel to Rome, so he had to pay for the trip on his own account. However this one was a great source of inspiration.
The collection that concerns us here is a total of ten canvases and despite the fact that only five of them are currently preserved, originally it was a series made up of two different sets. Despite not having reliable information about it, many experts believe that the paintings painted by the artist were commissioned by Dr. Etienne-Jean Georget,one of the most prominent psychiatrists of his time who directed an important he alth institution for characters as diverse as maniacs, prostitutes or people with any type of disability.
It seems that the doctor commissioned the artist to make a series of canvases in which the physiognomic characteristics of some patients could be seen, so that the canvases were so realistic that they were even used by his students for the study of these diseases. In this way, the artist represented characters with different obsessions: a general obsessed with command, an adult woman with envy, a kleptomaniac, a gambler and a man who kidnapped children. In these portraits the artist is dedicated to capturing each and everyof the details of the characters, which stand out due to the direct lighting they receive and the neutral background of the canvas.