In 1908, the Friends of the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent
acquired a painting by Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) for a bargain price at a Parisian auction. Entitled The Mad Murderer, the local press speculated at the time as to who would be fool enough to hang such a picture in his living room! The painting which in fact depicts a kleptomaniac forms part of a series of portraits that Géricault painted of mentally ill patients in the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. These include, amongst others, Portrait of a Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon) and Portrait of a Kidnapper (Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts).
In 1819, Théodore Géricault presented his large historic painting, The Raft of the Medusa, which elicited public admiration but also repelled many precisely because of the tragic circumstances in which the ship sank. Moreover, the canvas denounced the governments political bungling, which did not sit well at all with the existing powers. Géricaults monumental composition represented a new direction in painting and sounds more contemporary than ever as it echoes recent events around Lampedusa.
Soon after, Géricault produced a series of portraits of mental patients, deciding to abandon the conventional ways of depicting madness and rather highlighting the personality and humanity of his subjects. The exhibition aims to show that far from being a painter of tragic and insane subjects, Géricault, above all, desired to represent the margins of everyday life with a profound empathy and compassion for the protagonists of his paintings.
Various international museums have also lent their paintings, drawings and prints by Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Francisco Goya, Johan Heinrich Füssli and Adolf Friedrich Menzel for this exhibition, allowing us to examine the artists work in a broader context.
The exhibition, which is organised in partnership with the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, was made possible by exceptional loans from the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris (ENSBA) and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen. The exhibition will run at the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent from 21 February to 26 May 2014.
The petticoats of the Revolution
A small, related exhibition examines the role of women during the French Revolution. The art historical figure of Marianne is not just representative of the young French republic and freedom. Neither idealised nor allegorical, she really existed, her likeness having been modelled upon those of an everyday beauty. Women fought just as hard as men in the revolutionary army. A few even succeeded in playing a political role, although their fate was often pitiable. Take, for example, Théroigne de Méricourt, a freedom fighter who stood on the barricades in 1792 and, declared insane, was locked up in La Salpêtrière. The so-called Hyena, who was painted by Géricault, suffered the same fate and died in the hospital twenty years later.