Eliza C., as photographed by Henry Hering (c. 1857 – 9)
Posts Tagged 'Museum Dr Guislain'
Tags: conservation, Henry Hering, Museum Dr Guislain, Nervous Women, patient photographs
Tags: feminism, hysteria, Medical Muses, Museum Dr Guislain, Nervous Women, women and mental illness
In the introduction to Medical Muses, a study of hysterical patients in the Salpêtrière Hospital in the nineteenth century, Asti Hustvedt notes that there is today “a crop of bizarre new illnesses that, like hysteria, afflict mostly young women and stubbornly resist biological explanation”. She observes that “No drug exists to cure anorexia, bulimia, self-mutilation, chronic fatigue syndrome, and multiple personality disorder, and no genetic flaw has been found to explain them”; and, somewhat more tenuously, that “today’s scientists are scrambling to find biological explanations for behaviour, and everything from human mating strategies to homosexuality, from shyness to alcoholism, has been supposedly located in biology”.1
Broadly speaking, it is true that biological explanations came to be favoured over psychoanalytic ones within the psychiatry (though not within the psychology or the social work) of the Western world by the end of the twentieth century. More recently, however, the theoretical reductionism and mental health guild wars of the twentieth century have begun to give way to a broader appreciation of the factors that contribute to the many and various conditions that are commonly found sheltering under the umbrella term of ‘mental disorder’. Some may be biological, others behavioural, still others environmental. The profile of most ‘disorders’ is shaped by a combination of these factors, arising from discrete sets of circumstances and requiring individual attention. The examples given by Hustvedt are illuminating. The most helpful perspective from which to view alcoholism or anorexia is probably behavioural, at least as far as remedy is concerned, while the diagnosis of multiple personality disorder may be understood as an extreme example of a life story in critical need of rescripting. As far as the nineteenth-century diagnosis of ‘hysteria’ is concerned, Hustvedt does not deny that the “fatherless, unmarried, and poor” subjects of her study were really ill, but finds it impossible to say “to what degree their disease was socially determined and to what degree it was physically determined”. She began her study expecting to find “a clear-cut world of exploited women and exploiting men” within the Salpêtrière, but found instead “a hospital culture that was in many ways less oppressive than the world beyond it”. If it is true “hysteria was at least partly an illness of being a woman in an era that strictly limited female roles”,2 perhaps amelioration of the plight of ‘hysterical’ patients was never likely to be more than partial, a fact for which the doctors of the time had limited responsibility and over which they had little control.
This territory will be ploughed by a new exhibition at Museum Dr Guislain in Gent, Belgium. Nervous Women opens on 13 October 2012 and runs until 26 May 2013. Bethlem is making a unique contribution to this exhibition; we intend to tell our blog readers what it is in the near future.
1 Asti Hustvedt, Medical Muses (2011), p. 7.
2 ibid., pp. 4-5.
Tags: Allan Beveridge, anorexia nervosa, Brains, Elise Warriner, exhibitions, I, Me, Museum Boerhaave, Museum Dr Guislain, Myself, The Anger Within, Wellcome Collection
In the small space of the present Bethlem Museum, we can only display around five per cent of our nearly 1,000 artworks at any one time. Luckily, art from the Bethlem Collection is often requested by exhibitions elsewhere. The Richard Dadd and Louis Wain collections make frequent journeys en masse: this summer, our collection of Wain cats will be travelling to the Nicholson Museum and Gallery in Leek, Staffordshire. The exhibition runs from 26 June until 8 October 2012.
Meanwhile, Elise Warriner’s The Anger Within has travelled back across the Channel, this year to be displayed at the Museum Boerhaave in Leiden (Netherlands), in an exhibition opening next week (Friday 13 April) and running until September 9th. The striking image was painted as part of Elise’s degree show, “Welcome to my World”, which focused on her struggles with anorexia nervosa, an illness from which she later recovered. The painting forms part of the exhibition The Weighty Body, shown last year at the Museum Dr Guislain in Ghent. Themed around the history of fasting, the exhibition explores the multiple religious, medical, aesthetic and political meanings of the refusal of food throughout the centuries. The exhibition catalogue is written in Dutch, French and English and explores a variety of artworks and images relating to body size. Many of these can be found on the Museum Boerhaave website.
Tags: adolescent psychiatry, anorexia nervosa, child psychiatry, conferences, Elise Warriner, history of medicine, history of psychiatry, Museum Boerhaave, Museum Dr Guislain, The Weighty Body
Staff from the Archives and Museum recently attended the 3rd International Conference on the History and Heritage of Psychiatry, which was held at the Museum Dr Guislain in Ghent on the 28th and 29th April.
The theme of the conference was Dangerously Young: Child and Adolescent Psychiatry from a Historical Perspective. Bethlem’s archives were featured in two papers: Colin Gale and Caroline Smith examined the cases of several child and adolescent patients treated at Bethlem in the nineteenth century and Zbigniew Kotowicz of the University of Lisbon drew upon his extensive research in the Bethlem archives to examine the development of child psychiatry. Surprisingly few children were treated at Bethlem; of the 1069 patients under the age of 21 admitted between 1815 and 1899 only 58 were 15 or under.
The Belgian perspective was provided by a number of high-profile speakers, including the Flemish Commissioner for the Rights of Children. Belgium has relatively high levels of teen suicide, children in prison, child abuse and domestic violence (shockingly it is statistically more dangerous to be a Belgian woman than a Belgian soldier) and several papers explored the connection between child abuse and delinquency.
The role of DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in the ever-increasing number of mental disorders being diagnosed in children was a recurring theme, and Lisa Appignanesi (Chair of the Freud Museum) questioned how far an attempt is being made to medicalise ordinary emotions such as sadness, shyness and anxiety in order to benefit the drug companies.
Overall this was a thought-provoking conference and an excellent opportunity to meet representatives from museums of psychiatry throughout Europe. There was also a chance to pay a visit to one of Bethlem’s paintings: The Anger Within by Elise Warriner, on loan to the Museum Dr Guislain as part of their exhibition The Weighty Body: Fat or Thin, Vanity or Insanity. The exhibition explores the history of fasting, including those who stopped eating for religious or political reasons, and includes several works on the theme of anorexia nervosa. The exhibition has now closed but is due to be reprised at the Museum Boerhaave in Leiden in 2012.
Tags: art, art installation, conferences, Dangerously Young, Forever Friends, Hans Langner, In the Frame, Museum Dr Guislain
Since June last year we have used monthly In the Frame posts on this blog to highlight artworks from our reserve collection. Digital images of everything in this collection are already available online, but we think In the Frame is a good means of promotion, and intend to keep it up. This month, however, In the Frame goes ‘on holiday’ to highlight an artwork in Gent’s Museum Dr Guislain. Along with other colleagues, our Archivist recently attended the 3rd International Conference on the History and Heritage of Psychiatry in Gent, and took the opportunity to revisit a display he has always found striking, Hans Langner’s art installation entitled Forever Friends (part of the Stichting Collectie de Stadshof transferred to Museum Dr Guislain last decade). The Archivist writes:
“The title of this installation provides no real clue to its character. This is an immersive exhibit that one needs to be standing within to appreciate. However, ‘appreciate’ isn’t the right word to capture the experience of being in the midst of this incredibly cluttered display, assembled by the artist from a vast array of materials thrown away by others in such a way as to leave only one winding passage through it. Those whose home or work environment is not as clean and tidy as it might be will be familiar with the fear of being overcome by clutter, most of it valueless but some of it critically important, and with the waves of helplessness, panic and denial that the very sight of a messy desk or disordered room can induce.”
Anyone inspired to visit Gent on the strength of this recommendation, be warned! It is possible that shortly after stepping into Hans Langner’s installation, viewers may be possessed by a overwhelming desire to escape it.