Tuesday, 4 April 2017

C = Controversial or just plain creepy?

Henry Soloman Wellcome, 1887
Image credit: Wellcome Library
Sir Henry Wellcome was a crazy keen collector. His compulsive need to acquire anything that vaguely illustrated the 'art and science of healing throughout the ages' alienated and exhausted many of his staff. And eventually drove his wife off.

He intended that his cumulation of treasures become the Museum of Man. Of less than trifling concern was the sacrifice to the cause of the occasional woman.

By the time Wellcome died in 1935, he had amassed over 1 million artefacts, plus a small mountain range of books. 
Most had not been catalogued. 
Much seems to have had tenuous (at best) links to his initial aims. Sir Henry seems rather to have fallen in love with the process of seeking out increasingly more bizarre and varied items and images, no matter how controversial they may be.

Anatomical paintings by JF Gautier d'Agoty, c. 1760
Dimensions of each: 53.5cm x 193cm

Image credits: Wellcome Library

The oil paintings pictured above are life-sized, and were highly controversial in their day. To be honest, I reckon they are still conversation-worthy today, almost 300 years later. Attention to detail (no matter how shocking), the use of colour, light, and the postures of the subjects make them more like portraits than anatomical works. People of the day were confounded.
Is it art or science? 
Is it macabre or magnificent?
Me of today wonders if it is a wee bit creepy to use romantic style for clinical subjects.
And does anyone else find the fact that the pregnant female figures have in-tact faces, heads and breasts more than a wee bit worrisome? If you could paint a dissected baby or two, why would you shy away from a boob? 

The Anatomical Angel
Image credit :Wellcome Library
The work pictured at left is Gautier D'Agoty's most famous. 
He called her The Anatomical Angel but she has come to be popularly known as The Flayed Angel, her flesh folded back from her spine like wings.

At the risk of giving away far too much about myself, I find her more stylish than shocking. She strikes me as calm, not contentious. I find this image mesmerising.

But I'd really like to know what you think. 
If you've bothered to read this far, I hope you'll also take the time to leave a word to indicate your opinion of Gautier D'Agoty.

What do you think: 

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

My posts will all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.


  1. I think she's beautiful. She looks to be wearing some sort of exquisite corsetry. Whale bone? No human. That's where it all goes a bit wrong...when you look too closely. But even then, it's intriguing. Macabre certainly. I don't want it hanging in my bedroom... But she's beautiful. And she's not in pain. Or even aware that her back's hanging out... And I like that.

    1. I agree.
      She's almost erotic.
      Or is that just a step too far?

  2. Creepy AND controversial. She looks like a psychopath has carefully filleted her flesh away from the bones as part of his serial-killer signature. (I really shouldn't watch so much Criminal Minds.)

    1. I should make you my popular culture dial-a-friend.
      I hadn't thought of the serial killer angle, but now that you mention it...yes... I see that

  3. Many years ago, 29 to be exact I was present at an autopsy Back in those days there were no observation rooms with glass between you and the procedure, no we did next to the table. It was fascinating as the body was dissected and organs were removed to determine cause of death. The opening of the skull and seeing the brain sliced into thin samples was incredibly interesting. Humans have always been fascinated by the workings of the world, including our own bodies. Something to rejoice and enjoy.

  4. I imagine it would be fascinating, Scottie. I have only experienced the stinky frog and rat dissection.

  5. It is freaky but interesting. I know if I was looking at this collection I'd probably be slightly weirded out, but want to see it all, nevertheless. What a man--Mr.Wellcome. Eccentric!

    1. It's not ALL weird. But it IS all thought-provoking. And eccentric definitely fits.

  6. The painting of the angel is beautiful, but after watching "Vikings" and seeing how they used this as a form of torture before death it is kinda creepy too me. Also, the painting with the dissected baby - the boob bothers me because as a retired Lactation Consultant the way she is holding her breast is just so wrong! And wow, those paintings are life-sized - next time I am in London I am going to check out this place.

    1. LOL... Well it WAS painted by a man, and she was ( hopefully) dead when she posed. So maybe we can forgive the boob error.
      I haven't seen Vikings, and it may be a good thing that I haven't.

  7. I found the paintings to be both mesmerising and more than a little strange - but I couldn't look away so I guess they did their job with me

  8. I LOVE The Flayed Angel. Can definitely see erotic as well, so not just you.

  9. I don't care for dissected baby but other than that, this is definitely a collection that would have you leaning in closer. (I'd angle my hand judiciously so it blocked the baby.) It's very compelling.
    And I quite like Flayed Angel. If there were more gore, probably not. But done as is, yes. The lines are actually quite beautiful.

    1. You're absolutely right, the absence of blood does make a difference to the gore factor.

  10. I don't like the skeletal ones, especially the second as he looks in torment, nor do I like the babies!
    Gautier D'Agoty certainly doesn't scrimp on the details and all in glorious colour too! I can see what you mean about the angel being erotic by the way she is posed and looking coyly over her shoulder.
    These are not paintings that I would want hanging in my living room (unless I had to revise for an exam )!!!! :-)

  11. I cannot imagine anyone wanting them hanging on their living room walls. and I agree, the babies seem the most wrong!