(For the French original entry, with footnotes and references, see Une peinture de fou ou de folle dans une gravure hollandaise ?; I would be grateful for any comment or suggestion to improve my English)
Focus’s drawings are exceptional, but equally remarkable is their survival. Who saved them? Who kept them and transmitted them to the next generation? What did his contemporaries think about them? these are important questions, to which the catalog of the Paris exhibition has begun to answer. However, it is difficult to answer these questions because there are not many written sources on the manner the “art of fools” was considered before the 19th century. Could images, visual sources, help us?
The Rijksmuseum owns a series of prints entitled « Slachtoffer van bezetenheid of tovenarij », or « Victim of Possession or of Witchcraft ». Made a little earlier than 1660, they show men or women, 13 in all, who behave strangely. Some of these people seem to be examined by a committee of civil or religious personalities or perhaps of doctors, and they are treated for their troubles, sometimes violently
Many of these scenes seem to happen within one and the same building. A detail has drawn my attention to Print 2.
A painting with simple lines is visible on the wall of a room. Chances are slim, because the background of these prints is treated very summarily, as shown by what appears to be a molded cornice below the painting, but I wonder if we could see here the reproduction of an example of art created by one of the mad persons of the establishment and kept by the doctors or inquisitors as part of a dossier or, more simply, as a strange object worthy of interest.
There are not many old representations of drawings or paintings made by mad people. One of the best known is an engraving by William Hogarth, The Interior of Bedlam (Bethlehem Royal Hospital) (1735 ).
One of the asylum patients is shown drawing on a wall a mixture of complex geometric figures and freestyle graffiti. Moreover, in a room in the back, we can also discern a series of papers pinned to the wall, each containing a circle surmounting what appears to be a line of text, a caption. These drawings remind us of Focus’s « drawn writings », with their phylacteries. Might they also be drawings made by people suffering from a mental illness? To what extent can this engraving serve as a historical document since scholars agree that the fools represented by Hogarth are stereotypes and unrelated to the everyday life of the asylum?
This short blog entry is made up of unanswered questions, for which I apologize, but I wished to draw the attention on the possibility that there might be more old drawings made by crazy people than we think.