Dr. Duchenne de Boulogne was a physiologist who conducted a suite of experiments to elicit expressions of the principal emotions through the electrical stimulation of facial muscles. He planned to publish a scientific grammar of human emotions for the use of artists, a manual to replace older treatises on expression and physiognomy such as those by Le Brun and Lavater. Since Duchenne wanted the transcription of the expressions to be exact, he sought a photographer who specialized in portraiture and found Adrien Tournachon (brother of the famous Nadar). From the negatives they took together in 1854, Adrien made a single set of carefully crafted prints which the doctor mounted in a large album, now in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Later, and on his own, Duchenne copied and cropped the images in his album to make the illustrations for his book "Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine ou analyse électro-physiologique de l’expression des passions applicable à la pratique des arts plastiques" (1862). The book is most commonly found in an octavo edition with plates approximately 3-1/2 x 4-1/2 inches (see MMA 1993.248). Far rarer are the near life-size plates from the deluxe quarto edition, also of 1862, such as this image.
This image was figure 64 in Duchenne’s volume, with the caption “Contraction combinée des peauciers et des sourciliers, associée à l’abaissement volontaire de la mâchoire inférieure: effroi mêlé de douleur, torture.” (Combined contraction of the platysma and eyebrows, associated with the voluntary lowering of the jaw: terror, tinged with pain, torture.) In the corresponding text, Duchenne writes that the subject seems terrified of the idea of imminent death or torture. “This expression must be that of the damned,” he writes. Indeed, the photograph is a powerfully expressive portrait, one that prompts both horror and pity.
This photograph is one of 45 plates which accompany a bound copy of the volume, previously owned by the painter Charles Lennox Wright II (1876–1966).