This is one of a series of five portraits depicting the insane, painted by Géricault before his year in England (1820–1821). Writers usually say that practically nothing is known about the origin of these portraits. In a letter from 1863, the critic Louis Viardot relates how they were discovered by chance in Baden-Baden and describes their subjects as "monomaniacs." He specifies the nature of each one's obsessions: the abduction of children (Springfield), military command (Winterthur), kleptomania (Ghent), gambling (Louvre), and envy (Lyon). According to Viardot, the portraits were painted between 1820 and 1824 (probably incorrect) for his friend Dr Georget, chief physician at the Salpêtrière hospital for the insane.
However, there are no documents demonstrating any links between the two men, or even Georget’s interest in representations of this kind, unlike the famous Esquirol, who reformed the asylum. Esquirol stated in 1818 that he had drawings done of more than two hundred insane inmates for the purpose of publishing his observations on the subject. It was not until 1924 and the centenary of Géricault’s death that the importance of these portraits in the history of art was acknowledged. In this series, Géricault’s painting becomes introspective. A complete departure from the picturesque, the painter presents a truly clinical effigy through his representation of their insanity, breaking the traditional rules of portraiture. He stresses certain aspects such as the subjects’ headwear, clothing, mimicry, and staring eyes.