Gabriel Picart



Oil on canvas, 180 x 270 cm

An allegory to the horrors of the pandemic

The Nightmare

The origin of “The Nightmare” (2023) by Picart relies on Art as testimony, depicting significant events in life. Beyond question, the Coronavirus disease has marked a before and after for all of us. Incidentally, the word “Nightmare” is derived from “mara”, a Scandinavian term referring to a spirit that suffocates sleepers by crouching on their chests. Chest pressure and difficulty breathing were some of Covid-19’s main symptoms.

For his purpose, Gabriel Picart has revisited “The Nightmare” by Anglo-Swiss artist Henry Fuseli. This painting shows a woman in deep sleep with an incubus crouched on her chest, while a black horse is peering at the scene. A universal icon of horror since it was first exhibited to the public in 1782. Each and every one of the elements of this famous work has been the perfect base to create an allegory on the global Covid-19 pandemic, which first broke out in Wuhan.

In terms of contemporary figurative art, “The Nightmare” by Gabriel Picart offers a unique and thought-provoking interpretation of the Covid-19 pandemic through symbolism, allegory, and technique. The painting explores the emotions, psychological depth, and human condition of the pandemic experience through the lens of a historical masterpiece. This contemporary artwork combines traditional elements with modern artistic expression and interpretation, making it an excellent example of figurative art and artistic trends in the 21st century.

The Ink Master's Abode
In Picart's painting, the scenario of the hallucination seems to take place in the home of a Chinese Ink Master. The curtain in Fuseli's work is now a traditional Chinese folding screen. The horseshoe bat was always related to the virus that causes Covid-19; hence, the bat cave that shows on it.
Spilled Ink, Symbolic Stains
On the bottom left corner of Fuseli's painting, we notice a small table on which rests a mirror, a book, and a vial. In Picart’s version, we see an overturned table and some painting tools spread on the floor. A small vase of Chinese ink has spilled its content over the rug, spoiling the Chinese symbol that means Prosperity and Wealth. The Black Ink symbolizes the coronavirus. Paint stains were largely used as a sample of the way the Covid-19 pandemic spread.
Naked Vulnerability
Fuseli's incubus has turned into a vampire-like creature. It represents nothing but our own fears of getting infected by others through respiratory secretions such as droplets and saliva or by being touched by contaminated hands. The naked girl on the bed embodies us dealing with distress. Contemporary critics were taken aback by the overt sexuality of Fuseli's work, and for this reason, eroticism had to be present. In addition, a naked body carries a sense of lack of protection. In this case, it is the exposure to be contaminated.
Symbolic Shift in the Dragon's Eyes
Henry Fuseli also painted a curtain rope at the top right corner, which Picart has replaced with a Buddha Bell for protection and a coin for renewed prosperity. Finally, Fuseli's painting shows the head of a horse from a parting in a curtain, peering at the scene with big, white eyes. In Picart's version, behind the scenes, there is a wooden dragon head instead. The dragon is one of China's main symbols.
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The Artistic Riddle of Covid-19's beginnings

To this later respect, according to the artist own words: “It would be an unforgivable act of self-censorship on my side not to include references to China in a painting on Covid-19, for Wuhan is linked to the pandemic in our minds. However, The Nightmare does not intend to stigmatize the Asian giant, but it just aims to depict the Coronavirus the way most of us experienced it. Actually, the uncertainty on the ultimate origination of Covid-19 increased our woes a great deal, and for this reason the key element of this painting is kept hidden from our eyes, behind the screen. In my painting, we cannot see who is really holding the dragon pole:  I leave it to every one of you.” The Chinese text on the ink vase means: origin unknown.

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