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Art, Medicine, and Femininity: Visualising the Morphine Addict in Paris, 1870-1914

From the Intoxicating Histories series,

McGill-Queen's University Press

 

“Paris is the centre of the cult,” wrote Robert Hichens in Felix, his 1902 novel on the rising number of morphine addictions in Europe. In Paris, artists depicted the morphine addict numerous times, yet they disregarded the reality of France’s addiction problem: male medical professionals made up the highest proportion of people who used morphine habitually. In oil paintings, caricatures, and lithographs, artists such as Pablo Picasso, Eugène Grasset, and Théophile Steinlen almost always depicted the morphine addict as a deviant female figure.

Artists sensationalized addiction to elicit shock and stand out in the crowded Parisian art market. Their artworks show influences from contemporary medical texts on addiction and artistic depictions of sex workers, lesbians, and other women deemed socially deviant. These images proliferated in French society, creating false narratives about who was or could become addicted to drugs and setting a precedent for the visualization of drug addiction. Hannah Halliwell links the feminization of addiction to broader anxieties in late nineteenth-century France - the defeat by Prussia in 1871, concerns about social decadence, a declining population, and a rising feminist movement.

Art, Medicine, and Femininity presents a new understanding of the history of addiction and substance use and its intersection with art and gender.

Morphine addict patient with scarred skin nineteenth century France

In Art and Wax: The Morphine Addict in France at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Social History of Alcohol and Drugs journal,

Vol. 37, no. 1 (Spring 2023)

 

Wax models showing scarred skin caused by repeated use of hypodermic syringes were formed from the bodies of hospital patients with morphine addictions in France at the turn of the twentieth century. Needle-scarred skin was deemed a key factor in identifying morphinomanie (morphine mania). Wax modelers attempted to recreate morphine users’ bodies as accurately as possible because these objects functioned diagnostically. Artists repudiated the skin’s appearance and depicted the morphine addict as female, even though men made up the majority of users. In art, the female body is typically enclosed by an idealized, unscarred skin. As such, in line with broader concerns about containing femininity in art and in actuality, artists avoided showing the broken boundary of the morphine addict’s skin, pierced by hypodermic needle. Although medical and artistic visual culture of the morphine addict differ visually, both are subjective and function to contain and control concurrent narratives on addiction.

Adapting Object-Based Learning for the Virtual Classroom

Higher Education Futures institute (HEFi), November 2021

 

Dr Sophie Hatchwell (University of Birmingham, Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies) & Dr Hannah Halliwell (University of Edinburgh, History of Art Department) discuss Adapting Object-Based Learning for the Virtual Classroom.

Architecture Edinburgh buildings, Hannah Halliwell art historian

Forthcoming

Monet Water Lilies 1915-26

Claude Monet, Water Lilies detail, c.1615-26, Cleveland Museum of Art. (cc)

Historical Dictionary of Impressionism

Co-authored with Professor Frances Fowle,

Rowman & Littlefield

 

Publication expected in 2025-26.

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