Exposing ‘The Venereal Peril’: Fournier's Syphilography, Munch's Heredo-Syphilitic, La Syphilis Arabe, and Picasso's Prostitutes
Brauer, F. 2023. Exposing ‘The Venereal Peril’: Fournier's Syphilography, Munch's Heredo-Syphilitic, La Syphilis Arabe, and Picasso's Prostitutes. in: Hopkins, D. and Persson, D. (ed.) Contagion, Hygiene, and the European Avant-Garde Routledge.
|Hopkins, D. and Persson, D.
‘Everything is syphilis!’ exclaimed Joris-Karl Huysmans in 1883. From that year when Alfred Fournier published his research on latent syphilis, increasingly transmitted by illicit sex and resurging across four hereditary generations, almost every kind of malformation and abnormality became attributed to it. ‘A danger permanently menaces public health’, warned Fournier. ‘This danger resides in the disease that one could call the modern plague and which is none other than syphilis’. To expose the public to this ‘modern plague’ and to terrify them with its consequences, this chapter initially explores how syphilography was galvanised by Fournier as ‘effroyable réalisme’, particularly through photography, alongside the lifelike wax moulages commissioned from Jules Baretta for the Musée des moulages de l'Hôpital Saint-Louis. To reveal how avant-garde artists critically engaged with this visual culture of contagion, this chapter then focuses upon the relationship of Edvard Munch's paintings arising from his visits to these syphilophobic waxworks, before exploring the sexual conditions in which ‘the venereal peril’ had been able to germinate in France and its colonies, particularly in North and Central Africa, through regulated prostitution. After unravelling France's network of maisons de tolérance, quartiers réservés, and bordels militaire de campagne imposed upon Arab-Muslims and Berbers in North Africa and the indigenous tribes of French Congo, this chapter then explores how French African prostitutes became the syphilitic victims of colonial exploitation and French medico-scientific experimentation as conveyed by the Anarchist, Anarcho-Communist, and Feminist Anti-vivisectionist press, as well as by Pablo Picasso. Nevertheless, due to the pathologisation of Algerians, Moroccans, and Tunisians as ‘la Syphilis Arabe’, French sexual colonisers appeared exonerated of all blame. Yet by unravelling Picasso's corporeal contextualisation of syphilitic prostitutes as colonial victims of France's ‘syphilising mission’, this chapter concludes that he appeared to illuminate how Fournier's syphilography operated as a decontextualising strategy of dissuasion and sexual repression to instil syphilophobia while disavowing the roles played by France's ‘civilising mission’ in fertilising this ‘modern plague’.
|Contagion, Hygiene, and the European Avant-Garde
|30 Jul 2023
|31 Jul 2023
|Publication process dates
|07 Dec 2023
|Routledge Research in Art History
|Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
|Web address (URL)
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