5/25/11

Antoine Wiertz, Last Thoughts and The Visions of a Guillotined Head


Wiertz Museum, Brussels

Date: 1853
Technique: Oil on canvas

Wiertz depicts an execution by guillotine in three panels. The first suggests a low-angle view of the headless body, our gaze guided upwards by the pointing finger of a spectator in the foreground; the second presents a high-angle view as our now downward gaze is divided between the falling body and the decapitated head which, resting in the bottom right corner of the frame, leads us into the third panel. At this point, Wiertz 'jump cuts' dramatically from a spectator's view of events to a 'subjective shot' of the "last thoughts and visions of a decapitated head", presenting us with an extraordinary, expressionistic sensory whorl where objects and people become indistinct. And so the staccato movement across the three panels operates likes a sequence of filmic montage, bursting with the sort of rhythmic and psychological energy that film directors like Abel Gance and Sergei Eisenstein would unleash upon the audiences of their experimental silent epics of the 1920s.

Source 1
Source 2

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