Art exhibition shows new side of psychiatric hospital

Brightly coloured flower in blues and reds
Entitled Riqûme Rônâûzerâûse, this gouache on paper is by Gaston DUF

Sainte-Anne offers 150 years of history, mental health and splashes of brilliance

Brilliance can accompany mental illness and the Sainte-Anne psychiatric hospital in Paris is celebrating that brilliance with two successive exhibitions of drawings and paintings for its 150th anniversary.

Already unusual amongst psychiatric institutions in that it has its own museum of art and history, the hospital shows its patients in a much more positive light than they have sometimes been viewed in the past.

Elle était une fois: Acte I, les origins de la collection Sainte-Anne runs until November 26 and showcases 120 artworks that were created on the theme of asylum life between 1858 and 1949.

These are works by artists but the collection also contains spontaneous works of art by patients, or those done under the encouragement of supervising psychiatrists..

charcoal drawing of old man sleeping
René Ernest BREDIER's charcoal and pencil drawing of a man sleeping from September 1942

The second exhibition, which will run from November 30 until the end of February, is called Elle était une fois: Acte II, Autour de 1950, and offers a small sample of the collection of more than 2,000 works of art by 350 patient-artists, which were assembled in time for the First World Psychiatric Congress, and presented by the psychiatrist Robert Volmat.

It was this exhibition that prompted the influx of international donations which make up the museum’s collection today.

The two shows open a window onto asylum life, certainly, but if it is tempting to view the assembled artworks as a curiosity, interesting only because of their link to mental illness, this idea is not in the least bit borne out by the works themselves.

An indication of their intrinsic artistic value is the number of artists in the 1950 exhibition whose work had also appeared, entirely on its own merits, in Jean Dubuffet’s 1949 Art Brut exhibition in the Drouin Gallery in Paris.

Visitors can find the two exhibitions at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de l’Hôpital Sainte-Anne in Rue Cabais in Paris’s 14th arrondissement. The museum is free to the public and opens its doors 14.00-19.00 every Wednesday to Friday.

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