Portrait of a Kleptomaniac, (c. 1820)
Kleptomania is defined as a recurrent compulsion to steal. Affected persons often act on impulse and are not motivated by economic necessities. They tend not to use the objects they steal but may return them, hide them, or throw them away. They seem to get gratification from the very act of stealing, or at least cannot resist doing so. Some psychiatrists have suggested that kleptomania is part of the spectrum of obsessive compulsive disorders. It is a fairly uncommon condition, but often claimed as an excuse by plain thieves.
Between 1819 and 1821 the French romantic painter Théodore Géricault (1791—1824) executed ten portraits of the mentally insane at the request of his psychiatrist friend Dr. Etienne-Jean Georget, superintendent of a private asylum. The five surviving paintings are studies of “monomania,” at the time deemed to be a specific illness in which otherwise normal afflicted individuals were possessed by a single delusion. The other four surviving portraits depicted a man deluded of having a military command, a gambling addict, a compulsive child kidnapper, and a woman suffering from extreme neurotic envy. Dr. Georget may have commissioned these paintings as diagnostic aids for his students; but this was also the beginning of a movement to improve the conditions of the insane, who were often kept under degrading conditions, in chains and filth and exposed to the view and amusement of visitors who paid an entrance fee to see them.
- Boime, Alex. The Oxford Art Journal, 1991; 14:1.
GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief