By the end of 1821, Théodore Géricault found himself enjoying the success achieved by his renowned masterpiece, «The Raft of the Medusa» (1819). However, fame and fortune don’t always go hand in hand. As a result, the young artist, at just 29 years old, felt compelled to take on rather unconventional commissions.

Arguably, the most extraordinary request came from his acquaintance, the psychiatrist Étienne-Jean Georget. Georget (1795-1828) held the position of chief physician at the Salpêtrière, a Parisian asylum. Many historians posit that Georget, who was Géricault’s friend, treated the painter for his depression and paranoid delusions in 1819. Certain experts even speculate that the psychiatrist furnished him with human bodies for use as anatomical models.

In any case, Georget had been a disciple of Jean Etienne Dominique Esquirol (1772-1840) and stood as a trailblazer in forensic psychiatry. He adopted from Esquirol the term «monomania» to delineate instances of partial insanity wherein rationality seemed intact despite the patient’s actions. This classification aimed to cover apparently healthy individuals displaying isolated mental symptoms. Some have suggested that Georget and Esquirol aimed to gain public recognition for the field of legal psychiatry. However, the diagnosis of monomania fell out of use after the psychiatrist’s death.

Esquirol believed that monomania resulted from cerebral damage brought about by high fevers, a notion that harmonized well with the romantic idealization of heightened states of consciousness and inner torment. In this vein, Georget approached Géricault, a painter renowned for his predilection for macabre subjects and romantic aesthetic, with a proposition to depict monomanias. The artist, drawn by his intrigue in medicine, likely influenced by his maternal family’s history of mental illness and his own brush with depression, embraced the invitation. Thus, «Portraits of the Insane» (1822-1823) or «Les monomanies» came into being.

Théodore Géricault

Gericault laid the foundations of medical portraiture in psychiatry.

Géricault painted ten portraits in total, of which six endure, encapsulating a taxonomy of monomanias. The majority of the six surviving portraits spotlight monomanias bearing legal implications: «Kleptomania» (Monomanie du vol), «Gambling Mania» (Monomanie du jeu), «Obsessive Envy» (Monomanie de l’envie), «Delusion of Military Command» (Monomanie du commandement militaire), «Compulsive Kidnapping» (Monomanie du vol des enfants). In 2021, a sixth portrait, christened «Monomania Resulting from Drunkenness,» was discovered by Javier S. Burgos. Though documentation is scant, the precision of the portrait enables the identification of inebriation indicators: flushed cheeks, an unbuttoned shirt coupled with winter attire implying heightened body temperature, and two superficial wounds (a lump and a bruise) on the left side of the forehead, possibly stemming from a bout of intoxication.

In an era bereft of standardized diagnostic tools, the largely discredited field of physiognomy held sway. Esquirol and his contemporaries posited that one’s physical appearance could be wielded to diagnose mental disorders. In this context, the series of portraits (and the advent of photography in the ensuing decades) garnered significance. Géricault’s series manifests a clinical intent in portraying these disorders — an interpretation of what was termed a «disorder» in the 19th century, a matter of a different hue. Notably, all six surviving portraits adhere to a uniform size and share common technical and stylistic traits: the composition mirrors one another, featuring an illuminated countenance set against a somber backdrop. Speaking of standardization, this forms the primary diagnostic tool.

As previously stated, the monomania diagnosis had but a brief stint in usage. Nonetheless, its influence has reverberated into contemporary times. Thus, the DSM, the preeminent classification of mental disorders employed by mental health professionals, sustains the notion of monomania in categories like kleptomania or gambling disorder.


Burgos J. S. (2022). Monomania of drunkenness by Géricault. The Lancet. Neurology21(9), 774–775.

The texts and this website have been developed by Erik Aostri. All rights reserved.