In 1908, The Friends of the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent acquired a painting by Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) titled 'The Mad Assassin' at a Paris auction for a handsome price. On this occasion, the local press wondered who would be crazy enough to hang the portrait of a murderer in his living room! The portrait - which was actually that of a kleptomaniac - along with, among others, 'The Zealot' from the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon and the 'Child Thief' from the Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield Massachusetts, were part of a series of portraits of the mentally disturbed painted by Géricault at the la Salpêtrière hospital in Paris.
Through this series of portraits and through his masterpiece 'The Raft of the Medusa', Géricault quickly made a name for himself as the painter of horror, pain, madness and death. Through paintings, drawings, prints and documents, the exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent showed a different approach to this artist who was inspired by reality and all aspects of human nature.
Through a voluntary pursuit of a daily existence, sometimes happy but often violent or deadly at a time that was prey to the convulsions of history, Géricault tries to unravel man in all his facets. In doing so, he bears witness to a deep empathy for his models, whose faces bear the scars of life. In wanting to share the sorrows but also the passions of his contemporaries full of compassion, he becomes exhausted and destroys himself.
Works by other artists such as Füssli, Goya, Delacroix and Menzel allow us to better understand the context in which Géricault worked.