The painting is one of a series of ten portrait paintings of the insane that were probably painted between 1820 and 1824.
Gericault had gone to Dr. Etienne JeanGeorget to cure the depression into which he had fallen following the controversy over the Raft of the Medusa and offered the ten studies to the physician, perhaps for use as teaching material in his lectures on pathology, as a mark of his gratitude. Each of the pictures portrays a person suffering from a particular mental problem (it is likely that they were patients at the Salpetriere Hospital, where Georget practiced). The work reproduced here, the most famous of the series, depicts an elderly woman with a mania for gambling. Critics have pointed out similarities with a painting by the Scottish artist David Wilkie, Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Dispatch (which we know to have been admired by Gericault during his stay in England), especially in the representation of the alienated expression. In fact the realism of this painting, devoid of any hint of rhetoric or pathos, does reflect the influence of contemporary British art. On the other hand the work constitutes, in its almost clinical detachment from the subject portrayed, one of the earliest examples of the study of the physiognomy of the insane or, in particular, of criminals, a branch of medical science that was to arouse great interest over the course of the 19th century. From a technical point of view the ten studies, carried out in the same spirit in which he had reproduced parts of the anatomy in the preparatory studies for the Raft of the "Medusa" some years earlier, represent one of Gericault's finest achievements.
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