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Art and Images in Psychiatry |

Pygmalion in Love With His Statue

James C. Harris, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67(2):110. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.198.
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Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson's (1767-1824) last major work was a painting of Pygmalion and Galatea; it was intended to be his masterpiece. Girodet labored over the painting, which was commissioned by a patron, for nearly 7 years before its eventual exhibition at the Paris Salon in 1819. Even then it arrived late, possibly to increase the suspense after being rumored for so long. It was hung shortly before the exhibit was to close. Despite its tardy arrival, the painting created a sensation and was immediately controversial.2 With the restoration of the monarchy following Napoleon Bonaparte's defeat, Girodet sought to reintroduce neoclassical themes in painting. Both painter and poet, he hoped to serve as a bridge between the artistic policies of the ancien régime (old order) and those of the Restoration; he sought to forge a new artistic sensibility that combined intellectual refinement and sensuality.2Pygmalion in Love With His Statue was meant to represent this new sensibility.

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Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (1767-1824), French. Pygmalion and Galatée, 1819. Oil on canvas, 99½ × 79½ in (253 × 202 cm). Louvre, Paris, France. Used by permission of Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, New York, NY.

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Addendum to Pygmalion in Love with his Statue
Posted on February 9, 2010
Fred M. Sander, MD
Weill-Cornell Medical Center
Conflict of Interest: None Declared
To the Editor: The Art and Images in Psychiatry section by Dr. James Harris (Feb, 2010), featuring the Girodet painting of Pygmalion and Galatea certainly has a rich association with psychiatry. To elaborate, Freud's first exploration of applied psychoanalysis was his analysis of Wilhelm Jensen's novel "Gradiva." In that novel Norbert Hanold fell in love with a woman represented on an archeological bas-relief found in the ruins of Pompeii. In his monograph Freud (1907) showed that one can analyze a dream and,in this case, a subsequent delusion in a work of fiction by the methods he had been exploring at the time.
The date of the painting 1819 follows the 1818 publication of "Frankenstein," by Mary Shelley which depicts one of the most well known and duplicated early humanoid creations (on the road to robots). Two centuries later the emergence of cloning stem cells, artificial reproductive technologies, and regenerative medicine will surely come to the attention of psychiatrists.
My own clinical work in this area includes the elaboration of an interpersonal Pygmalion-Galatea Process (2004) especially applicable to couple and family therapy where individuals, marital partners, parents and children can be seen as ever attempting to influence or change others, for better or worse, to fit their images and expectations of them. The other(s) may just as often, as Eliza Doolittle in Shaw's "Pygmalion," resist such efforts. Actually, a minor correction of Dr. Harris's depiction of Eliza, is that she at first showed up at Henry Higgins' laboratory, asking to be transformed. She only resisted him when she felt he had gone too far in his attempts to change and objectify her.
Essaka Joshua (2001) has published a comprehensive survey of hundreds of representations of the Pygmalion myth.
Freud, S. (1907). Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva," Standard Edition, 9, pp.7-95 London: Hogarth.
Shelley, M. (1818). "Frankenstein" in "The Annotated Frankenstein," edited by Leonard Wolf (1977) New York: Clarkson N. Potter.
Sander, F.M. (2004). Psychoanalytic Couple Therapy: Classical Style. Psychoanalytic Inquiry Vol. 24, #3, pp.373-376.
Joshua, Essaka (2001), Pygmalion and Galatea: The history of a narrative in English Literature. Aldershot: Ashgate.
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