Neuroscience by Caricature in Europe throughout the ages

by Lorenzo Lorusso
Contents ▹

French caricaturists

Fig. 1
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Boilly’s five senses

Five people, each exercising one of the five senses. Grimaces, 1823. Top, a man who looks at a miniature through a quizzing glass, representing sight. Below left, a man holding a watch up to his ear, representing hearing. Right, a woman holding a perfume flask to her nose, representing smell. Centre, a man licking a finger which he has just dipped into a dish of food, representing taste. Bottom, an old man who represents touch feeling the wrist and forearm of the young woman who smells the perfume flask.

‘Grimaces’ is the title of a series of 92 lithographs designed by Boilly between 1823 and 1828, reissued by the Maison Aubert in 1837 as ‘Groupes physionomiques connus sous le nom de grimaces par Boilly’. Wellcome Library no. 44032i

In the 19th century, the French illustrators were dominant in the field of caricature with Daumier acknowledged as the most eminent mid-century. This was the golden age of French caricaturists. Their works were characterized by sharp social analysis (comédie humaine); their caricature in particular portrayed people as animals or objects creating shorthand analogies that offer the viewer a quick visual understanding of a character or situation without the need for words. French caricaturists in the 18th and early 19th century were partial to placing human heads on animals’ bodies, particularly during the French Revolution. Following the July Revolution of 1830 there was a freedom of the Press and independent caricature was thereby sanctioned. Charles Philipon (1800-1861) founded his satirical journals La Caricature and Le Charivari which enjoyed immediate success. A group of Philipon’s collaborators also flourished: Boilly, Grandville, Daumier and others.

Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845) was born in La Bassée, a village in northeastern France. He moved to Paris in 1786 where he successfully began his illustrious career as a painter and lithographer. He is credited with drawing the first dated French lithograph in 1802 and depicted over 5,000 heads in his artwork. Late in his career Boilly began a series entitled Recueil de Grimaces that comprised 96 lithographs showing tight clusters of heads set against blank back-grounds [Fig. 1]. The first prints were studies on expression and extended the images into representations of social types. These satiric representations served as sources for the following caricaturists such as Daumier. Boilly created these figures at a time when physiognomy and facial expression held a great fascination for Europeans. Near the age of retirement, he sold his painting business and became an investor in mortgage loans.

Fig. 2
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Grandville’s Animalomanie

Études physiognomiques, par Grandville. Les bêtes et ceux qui aiment. Le Journal pour rire , 1853. This picture was published after Grandville’s death by Journal pour rire in 1853. Grandville’s figure appeared in Animalomanie in 1836. Private collection

Grandville (1803-1847) is the name used by Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard, a caricaturist, lithographer, and illustrator. After the French Revolution of 1830 he contributed over 200 designs to two periodicals edited by Charles Philipon. He produced over 3.000 prints, engravings, and lithographs during his career. His specialty was animated figures and object and anthropomorphic animal, and strange metamorphoses which he used to lampoon both social follies and political miscreants and published in Metamorphoses du jour/Today’s Metamorphoses (1829) and in Cabinet d’histoire naturelle/National History Cabinet by La Caricature (1833) [Fig. 2]. He illustrated a book: L’Autre Monde/The other World (1844), with an approaches of surrealism, despite being conceived in a pre-Freudian age. Members of the Surrealist movement such as André Breton recognised in Grandville a significant precursor and inspiration for their movement. Following a series of personal misfortunes, including the deaths of several of his children, Grandville himself died in an asylum.

Fig. 3
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Daumier’s Phrenologiste

Le Phrenologiste by Honoré Daumier. This figure appeared in the chapter Le Phrenologiste by Eugène Bareste (1814-1861) in Les Français peints par eux-mêmes,  Paris, L. Cumer, 1840-1842, Vol. 5. Private collection

Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) was a caricaturist and painter. Daumier’s fame as a caricaturist eclipsed his reputation as painter during his lifetime. He is recorded as having produced over 4,000 lithographs and wood engravings, 1,000 drawings, 300 paintings and 100 sculptures. His prints appeared in La Silhoutte and he was one of the artists drawing for La Caricature in 1830, and later for Le Charivari, in 1835. His notorious cartoon of Louis-Philippe as Gargantua (the transformation of the head of Luois-Philippe into a pear that in French poire = fool) outraged the authorities and he was arrested and sent to prison. The last months of his imprisonment he was sent to the Psychiatric hospital directed by the Alienist Casimir Pinel (1800-1866), nephew of the Psychiatrist Philippe Pinel (1745-1826), the founder of the French Psychiatry. Many liberals, republicans, painters, like Daumier, Philipon, etc spent time in his clinic instead of serving their sentences in the prison cells of Sainte-Pèlagie. Daumier had the opportunity to draw physicians and patients whose disorders were viewed through various neuroscientific theories of that time such as Mesmerism, Phrenology and nascent Neuro-psychiatric concepts [Fig. 3].