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Faculty facts and data 2013/2014

The François-Franck Collection

Studying emotions in the early 20th century
Sarah Rey

Notes de la rédaction

Source: La lettre, no. 38, June 2014

Texte intégral

1The Collège de France archives hold a large collection of photographic plates devoted to the expression of emotions. These plates were initially erroneously attributed to Pierre Janet (1859-1947), Professor of Experimental and Comparative Psychology from 1902 to 1934. In 2011 they were digitized, to preserve them and to make them widely available.

2An in-depth study determined that they were actually produced and collected by Charles-Émile François-Franck (1845-1921), Chair of Natural History of Organized Bodies from 1905 to 1921, and then given to the Collège de France by the psychologist George Dumas (1866-1946). The 780 photographic plates are now online on Salamandre, the Collège de France’s archive catalogue and digital library. The plates have been analysed and re-examined in light of recent research on the history of psychiatry and photography.

Charles-Émile François-Franck, Collège de France’s Archives.

3This collection was constituted initially for a series of lectures by François-Franck in 1900 and 1901: “The Expression of Emotions in a Normal and Pathological State”, and “How articulated Language and Mimicry are related Emotions”. In those years, he was standing in for Étienne-Jules Marey Chair of Natural History of Organized Bodies (1869-1904), already a precursor in the use of photography for medical purposes. François-Franck, a doctor by training like his senior, took a new direction when he turned to psychology at the beginning of the twentieth century.

4These plates include photographs of “lunatics”, mainly from the Villejuif asylum, along with anatomical charts, portraits of professional actors and of blind and deaf-mute persons, as well as copies of works of art. Facial features and postures, captured live, seem to have been a major area of interest of François-Franck, who often looked for the “secret” of emotions in art.

A “lunatic” photographed to illustrate François-Franck’s lecture, Collège de France Archives

The actor Édouard de Max miming the emotion relating to command, Collège de France Archives

5Psychiatry and art have been closely inter-related for centuries. Consider for instance the “monomaniac” portraits painted by Théodore Géricault in the early nineteenth century, at the request of Étienne-Jean Georget, a doctor practising at the Salpêtrière hospital. Charcot pursued this “optical” reflection by studying masterpieces representing pathologies to diagnose them a posteriori. Likewise, François-Franck’s archives bring together, for example, a copy of The Vision of Saint Jerome (ca. 1619-1620) by Guercino, the image of a double visual and auditory hallucination, and The Money Changer and his Wife (1514) by Quentin Metsys, to identify a simple character trait (avarice), and perhaps the start of a disease. François-Franck extended his visual curiosity to the inclusion, in this clinical and artistic repertoire, of pictures of animals as well as primitive artwork (Asian masks and Amerindian statuettes).

6In April 2013, the return of the François-Franck paper archives, entrusted to the IMEC (Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine) in 2000, was of great help in understanding and contextualizing these images. Many illustrated lecture notes and photograph albums annotated by François-Franck allow us to retrace the professor’s experimental and teaching approach, as it was presented to the audience during his lectures.

7These archives will be of interest not only to psychologists and psychiatrists wishing to return to the origins of their practices, but also to historians of confinement and insanity inspired by Michel Foucault’s work. Specialists of the techniques and uses of photography will discover portraits inspired by the work carried out by Duchenne de Boulogne or Albert Londe, pioneers of medical plates. This collection will also command the attention of historians of late nineteenth-century theatre, since some of the images depict famous actors of the time, asked to mime certain expressions exaggeratedly.

• To begin to shed light on this collection, a study day attended by art historians, historians of science and philosophers was held at the Collège de France on 3 June 2014.

• The inventory of the François-Franck archives and the digitized plates are available on Salamandre ( Most of the plates are freely accessible, but some of them can be consulted only for research purposes.

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Table des illustrations

Légende Charles-Émile François-Franck, Collège de France’s Archives.
Fichier image/png, 1,6M
Légende A “lunatic” photographed to illustrate François-Franck’s lecture, Collège de France Archives
Fichier image/png, 1,4M
Légende The actor Édouard de Max miming the emotion relating to command, Collège de France Archives
Fichier image/png, 1,1M
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Sarah Rey, « The François-Franck Collection  », La lettre du Collège de France [En ligne], 9 | 2015, mis en ligne le 29 septembre 2015, consulté le 22 juillet 2018. URL :

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Sarah Rey

Lecturer, University de Valenciennes et du Hainaut Cambrésisen112-113

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