The Lunatic of Etretat

Hugues Merle1871/1871

Chrysler Museum of Art

Chrysler Museum of Art
Norfolk, United States

The woman’s face is a mask of suffering while she cradles, not a sleeping baby, but a wooden log! Is Merle’s “lunatic” mourning the loss of a child, or mad with longing for one? With no clear answer visible, we are left to ponder her fate. The figure’s anguish is a hallmark of Romanticism, a style that emphasized images of suffering, madness, and death. These images were often thinly veiled allusions to broader social suffering or political upheavals. For example, Merle painted The Lunatic in 1871, the same year that France lost the Franco-Prussian War. Could his dark image mirror the broader national mood of political loss and desolation?



  • Title: The Lunatic of Etretat
  • Creator: Hugues Merle
  • Creator Lifespan: 1823/1881
  • Creator Nationality: French
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: Paris, France
  • Creator Birth Place: Saint Martin, France
  • Date: 1871/1871
  • Location Created: Paris, France
  • Provenance: Private collection, Belgium; Auction, Horta, Hôtel de Ventes - Auctioneers, Brussels, Belgium, May 16-18, 2008, no. 193; Jack Kilgore & Co., New York, NY, 2008; Museum purchase, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Va., 2009.
  • Physical Dimensions: 60 1/8 x 39 1/8 in. (152.7 x 99.4 cm)
  • Credit Line: Museum purchase with additional funds from Landmark Communications
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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