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Art and Images in Psychiatry
February 2010

Pygmalion in Love With His Statue

Author Affiliations

James C.HarrisMD

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67(2):110. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.198

The lover stands amazed, rejoices still in doubt, fears he is mistaken, and tries his hopes again and yet again with his hand. Yes it was real flesh! . . . Then did the Paphian hero pour out copious thanks to Venus, and again pressed with his lips real lips at last.

—Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book X1(p85)

Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson's (1767-1824) last major work was a painting of Pygmalion and Galatea; it was intended to be his masterpiece. Girodet labored over the painting, which was commissioned by a patron, for nearly 7 years before its eventual exhibition at the Paris Salon in 1819. Even then it arrived late, possibly to increase the suspense after being rumored for so long. It was hung shortly before the exhibit was to close. Despite its tardy arrival, the painting created a sensation and was immediately controversial.2 With the restoration of the monarchy following Napoleon Bonaparte's defeat, Girodet sought to reintroduce neoclassical themes in painting. Both painter and poet, he hoped to serve as a bridge between the artistic policies of the ancien régime (old order) and those of the Restoration; he sought to forge a new artistic sensibility that combined intellectual refinement and sensuality.2Pygmalion in Love With His Statue was meant to represent this new sensibility.

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