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Art and Images in Psychiatry
August 2003

The Obsession of Envy (Monomanie de l'envie)

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003;60(8):764. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.60.8.764

THÉODORE GERICAULT (1791-1824) was a French painter, draftsman, lithographer, and sculptor. In his short life—12 working years—he dramatically represented contemporary experience in a visually truthful manner, seeking a middle ground between the Romantic and Neoclassical styles. He is best known for his Raft of the Medusa (1819) in the Louvre Museum (Paris, France). This painting of the aftermath of a shipwreck depicts survivors trapped on a raft and exposed to the elements. He emphasizes not the scandal that took place there, with the outbreaks of mutiny and cannibalism, but rather the suffering, struggle, and perseverance of men abandoned to the forces of nature. Although work on the painting stimulated Gericault's interest in medicine, it was a maternal family history of mental illness and his own experience of depression with paranoid delusions in 1819 that may have motivated him to accept an invitation to paint Portraits of the Insane (1822-1823).1 These intense and spontaneously executed paintings of monomania have a powerful realism and avoid traditional stereotypes of people with mental illness.2

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