Claude-Louis Desrais was one of the most prolific designers of book illustrations in late 18th century France. In this and the next lot, he depicts a section of French aristocratic society experimenting with the new theories and pseudoscientific observations that were fashionable at the time. Here it is a healing 'baquet' staged by the German physician, Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) who had established himself in Paris in 1778. Mesmer theorized that there was a natural energetic transference that took place between all animate and inanimate objects which he called magnétisme animal, animal magnetism. Mesmer also believed in the healing of humans by the use of magnets and he published a book of his theories, Mémoire sur la Découverte du Magnétisme Animal. He had great success but naturally was not without his critics.
This drawing is an accurate illustration of the description of one of Mesmer's 'baquets' given by a contemporary English physician: 'In the middle of the room is placed a vessel of about a foot and a half high which is called here a "baquet". It is so large that twenty people can easily sit round it; near the edge of the lid which covers it, there are holes pierced corresponding to the number of persons who are to surround it; into these holes are introduced iron rods, bent at right angles outwards, and of different heights, so as to answer to the part of the body to which they are to be applied. Besides these rods, there is a rope which communicates between the baquet and one of the patients, and from him is carried to another, and so on the whole round. The most sensible effects are produced on the approach of Mesmer, who is said to convey the fluid by certain motions of his hands or eyes, without touching the person. I have talked with several who have witnessed these effects, who have convulsions occasioned and removed by a movement of the hand...' Perhaps Mesmer is the figure standing to the right. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is from his name that the word 'mesmerize' is derived.
This and the following lot were probably intended for prints or book illustrations as they are reddened on the verso.
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