“Melancholy: Genius and Madness in the West”

Grand Palais

The sitter leans forward. The head tilts slightly to the side, propped up by the hand (an open palm or a closed fist) at the end of a bent arm. The elbow is supported by a flat surface—a desk, a table, often the sitter’s own knee. The brow is usually furrowed, throwing a real or implied shadow over the eyes, which are lowered but never closed. Posture and facial gesture imply a layered interiority, acts of reflection flashing across the surface of troubled depths. The downward rotation of the propped head conveys an impression of heavy weight. The force of “gravity” is understood to be both literal and figurative. This tilt or incline, which induces a kinesthetic response in the beholder, also reminds us of something else: We recognize that, writ large, the axis of melancholy is the axis of the world.

The dazzling but flawed and inadvertently unfinished “Melancholy: Genius and Madness

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