top of page

"Doctor Jekyll's Last Experiment"

Morgue Bros

(Tempura on wooden platter)

Let's face it: the Morgue brothers¹ were odd ducks. Identical twins who showed early promise in their carefully executed paintings, they somehow went off the rails by the 1840s, choosing ever-odder subject matter. With the publication of Edgar Allan Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1841 they became extremely paranoid, believing that the title somehow cryptically threatened them. They even had their solicitor send Poe a cease-and-desist letter, but transoceanic mail in those days was so slow that the author was dead of either rabies, fulminating brain fever, or cirrhosis of the liver² by the time it reached him. The brothers worked out their shared phobia by painting scenes from the book in an attempt to exorcise the doom they felt was hanging over them.

But it was the publication of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in 1886 that sent the brothers around the bend for good. Already showing signs of what was diagnosed as prehensile dementia,³ they became obsessed with the story, painting repeated portraits of the two personalities represented in the title. Dr Jekyll's Last Experiment was also the brothers' last painting. Shortly thereafter one of the Morgues mistook a jar of cadmium red for tomato paste and they ended up in the city facility named after them.

The painting itself is a curiosity among curiosities. The word cat does not appear in Stevenson's book. The magical changing of a human into a cat is more like the work of Richard Dadd, the criminally insane painter who had died in Bedlam the same year the Jekyll and Hyde book was published, a curious coincidence. Or perhaps like the work of Louis Wain, mad painter of insane cats, who was 26 in the year 1886, the year the book was published, the same year that Wain's first anthropomorphized cats were published in the Illustrated London News. Wain lived in London, very close to the neighborhood where the fictional [?] criminally insane Jekyll/Hyde lived!

We are going to break off this account right here, as the coincidences are getting a tad spooky. Plus the cat in the painting just turned its head and smiled at us...

¹ They were known collectively rather than individually because they were so identical their parents and nurses and governnesses couldn't ever figure out who was who, so they were never given first names. That made their christenings a very peculiar event, with the priest hitting the Communion muscatel harder than usual when it was over.

² Or possibly all three. In his final ramblings at the charity hospital in Baltimore where he ended his days, Poe, drunk on laboratory alcohol, began complaining that a mad dog was eating his brain. An autopsy was inconclusive.

³ An unknown condition. Medical historians believe it might have been their physician's shorthand for getting nuttier but still hanging on, although this is pure conjecture.

BACK          NEXT

bottom of page