|André Brouillet's 1887 A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière depicting a Charcot demonstration. Freud had a lithograph of this painting placed over the couch in his consulting rooms.|
In October 1885, Freud went to Paris on a fellowship to study with Jean-Martin Charcot, a renowned neurologist who was conducting scientific research into hypnosis. He was later to recall the experience of this stay as catalytic in turning him toward the practice of medical psychopathology and away from a less financially promising career in neurology research. Charcot specialized in the study of hysteria and susceptibility to hypnosis, which he frequently demonstrated with patients on stage in front of an audience.
The painting represents an imaginary scene of a contemporary scientific demonstration, based on real life, and depicts the eminent French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) delivering a clinical lecture and demonstration at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris (the room in which these sorts of lesson took place no longer exists at the Salpêtrière).
Entitled Periode de contortions ("During the contortions"), it depicts "a woman convulsing and assuming the arc-in-circle" posture: the arc en circle, or Opisthotonus, "the hysteric's classic posture".
Sigmund Freud had a small (38.5 cm x 54 cm) lithographic version of the painting, created by Eugène Pirodon (1824-1908), framed and hung on the wall of his Vienna rooms from 1886 to 1938.
Once Freud reached England, it was immediately placed directly over the analytical couch in his London rooms.