Musée d'Orsay: Hugh Welch Diamond Portrait of a Mad Woman

Hugh Welch Diamond
Portrait of a Mad Woman

Portrait of a Mad Woman
Hugh Welch Diamond (1809-1886)
Portrait of a Mad Woman
Between 1852 and 1854
Print on albumen paper from a wet plate negative
H. 17,5; W. 12,5 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / DR

Portrait de folle [Portrait of a Mad Woman]

In the early 1850s, Doctor Hugh Diamond was director of the Surrey County Asylum, a psychiatric hospital for women. He was also passionate about photography, and a leading member of the Royal Photographic Society.
Part of his professional work involved the systematic photographing of his patients in order to diagnose their illness from their facial features. This science, also known as morphopsychology, was particularly developed during the 19th century. It aimed to discover the nature of a person's character by studying their facial features.

Diamond used his photographs to follow the progress of his patients. The psychiatrist, Doctor Georget, senior physician at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, did the same, using portraits of monomaniacs painted by Géricault around 1820. Diamond also noted that his images could in some cases contribute to a patient's recovery.

Hugh Diamond took other photographs as well as his portraits of "mad women". But the intensity and aesthetic quality of these documents, although taken for professional reasons, are the high point of his art. There are other portraits, the majority of which are kept in albums belonging to British hospitals, which could be considered more attractive or more picturesque, but this one, with its air of great solemnity, with the distracted gaze of the model, is one of his strongest and most modern images.

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