Fragments of Compassion


22.02.2014 - 25.05.2014


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).


The portraits, together with his masterpiece The Raft of the Medusa, quickly cemented Géricault’s reputation as a painter of horror, pain, madness and death. The exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent brings together paintings, drawings, prints and documents to provide a fresh perspective on an artist who sought inspiration in reality and the different aspects of human nature. Through his exploration of the struggles of everyday life – occasionally pleasant but given the troubled and turbulent epoch, more often violent or deadly – Géricault attempted to solve the multifaceted riddle of humanity. In so doing, he was a deeply empathetic witness to the suffering of his models, whose faces were scarred by life. Géricault’s profoundly compassionate efforts to share not just the sorrows but also the joys of his contemporaries exhausted him, with devastating personal consequences.


Works by artists such as Fuseli, Goya, Delacroix and Menzel situate Géricault within the context in which he worked.


This exhibition has been realised in association with the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt.


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.



Théodore Géricault, Portrait of a Kleptomaniac, ca. 1820-1824
© Museum of Fine Arts Ghent


Anonymous (French school), Portrait of a woman – ca. 1795, ©  Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts