Crime’s face: Imagining and representing kleptomania

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Marlene Dumas is regarded as one of the most important international painters of this time. In this article, an analysis is made of what her painting The Kleptomaniac (2005) and, in particular, what its title represents. Drawing upon art history, I begin by looking at the original Portrait of a Kleptomaniac (ca. 1820) by Géricault of which Dumas has painted her own version. This will be followed by a discussion of the history of the concept of kleptomania in psychiatry and an analysis of how that concept is reproduced by Dumas's painting. It will be argued that, by giving the portrait of a man the title of 'kleptomaniac' in 2005, Dumas represents a type of criminal in a way that neither does justice to the history of the concept of kleptomania, nor to the phenomenon itself. By mobilizing a contested and obsolete psychiatric concept as a title for a painting, the subject itself is mystified and the effect on the viewer of the painting is not only disorienting, but also ethically problematic.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)21-39
Number of pages19
JournalCrime, Media, Culture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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