In art and wax: The morphine addict in France at the turn of the twentieth century

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Wax models showing scarred skin caused by repeated use of hypodermic syringes were formed from the bodies of hospital patients with morphine addictions in France at the turn of the twentieth century. Needle-scarred skin was deemed a key factor in identifying morphinomanie (morphine mania). Wax modelers attempted to recreate morphine users’ bodies as accurately as possible because these objects functioned diagnostically. Artists repudiated the skin’s appearance and depicted the morphine addict as female, even though men made up the majority of users. In art, the female body is typically enclosed by an idealized, unscarred skin. As such, in line with broader concerns about containing femininity in art and in actuality, artists avoided showing the broken boundary of the morphine addict’s skin, pierced by hypodermic needle. Although medical and artistic visual culture of the morphine addict differ visually, both are subjective and function to contain and control concurrent narratives on addiction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-71
Number of pages27
JournalThe Social History of Alcohol and Drugs
Issue number1
Early online date27 Mar 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Mar 2023


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