Friday, August 23, 2013

Anorexia Nervosa or A Broken Heart


Earlier in June in 2009 we spent some time with our friends in Dorchester. Somehow the after dinner conversation turned to the Pre-Raphaelites and our hostess promptly produced a book with an amazing painting on its cover.

In a chance encounter with Andrew Lloyd WebberJosceline Dimbleby asked him bluntly if she could go and see the portrait he had of her great-aunt, Amy Gaskell.

“Ah, that wonderful dark picture,” Andrew said. “Yes, please come……Well, I think she looks rather like you......”

“Did you know that she died young?” Josceline asked Andrew.

“Of a broken heart.”

She told Andrew that she would try to find out more. This led her to start researching into the life of Amy, her mother May and the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones and the result was the book A Profound Secret.

I looked at the book cover and thought the portrait reminded me of the Picasso I used for my Anorexia Blog.



Amy Gaskell by Edward Burne-Jones

Leighton House Museum 2004/Andrew Lloyd Webber




             Girl in a Chemise Picasso 

Tate

It is said that as a young man Picasso admired the pre-Raphaelites and Edward Burne-Jones so much that in 1900 he would have gone to London rather than Paris had he had the fare.

“There was a hint in the book that she might well have died of Anorexia!” My hostess said.

It was a fascinating book, like good family biographies are, as long as you accept that it is not going to be as organised as fiction. A good writer helps and Josceline Dimbleby is a well established food and travel writer.

For a psychiatrist, it is especially interesting as he is allowed glimpses into the various personalities, their psychiatric problems and the resulting family dynamics, without the interference of the usual psychiatric labelling or coding. Unfortunately self medicating with alcohol, opium and other fancy substances was rife in that era and the result could often be tragic.

Indeed Josceline thought at one point in the book that Amy might have suffered from Anorexia although it was not a known condition at the time. She left it till the end of the book to let us into the final secret. You will have to find out for yourself.


Without the effect of drugs that would double the bodyweight, we have in the end one of the most beautiful portraits of the Pre-Raphaelites. Burne-Jones’ life is of course another psychiatric book: his mother died when he was six days old and many felt that all his life he was searching for the perfect mother he so missed. It is indeed ironical that the art world has been much enriched by what was essentially untreated bereavement.
Psychiatry may need to look again at what we have been doing, as we do not seem to have found another Burne-Jones.

Picasso:   "There had been a considerable vogue in Barcelona for the Pre-Raphaelites and the young Andalusian had been an admirer in particular of the white-skinned maidens of Burne-Jones, whom he had seen in reproduction."
 ........"Picasso assured me, when he was staying in London in 1950, that for him his [1900] trip to Paris was merely a halt on a journey that would take him further north to London. He had conceived a great admiration for England and . . . some English painters, especially Burne-Jones." 
                                                   Roland Penrose: Life and Work of Picasso.
                                                                                                                                                      This was first posted on July 20, 2009.


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