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Art and Images in Psychiatry
July 2009

Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida

Author Affiliations

James C.HarrisMD

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009;66(7):691. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.88

Carson: Have you ever felt that feeling of adoring madly a beautiful male person many years younger than yourself?Wilde: I have never given adoration to anybody except myself.—From the trial of Oscar Wilde1(p91)

Ivan Albright (1897-1983) reintroduced the long-dormant theme of vanitas into 20th-century art. Traditionally, vanitas (vanity) paintings emphasized the transience of life, the futility of momentary pleasure, and the certainty of death, thus challenging the viewer to search for a more meaningful, and less self-centered, existence. The vanitas theme originated in northern Europe in the late Middle Ages and remained popular into the 18th century.2Albright modernized it in Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida(cover). In it, he shows a woman's reluctant physical transition from youth to middle age. In contrast, in his Picture of Dorian Gray(Figure), based on the Oscar Wilde novel, he turned away from outer appearances and focused instead on the inner life. In it Albright depicts the psychological toll and moral degeneracy that results from Dorian's Faustian pact to remain eternally young, to pursue the aesthetic life of sensual indulgence without compunction, morally indifferent to the well-being of others. Thrilled when his portrait captured his youthful beauty, Dorian reflects:

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