Robert Riggs, Psychopathic Ward
Arguably Robert Riggs’s most revered and reproduced print, Psychopathic Ward depicts unsettled and anxious patients in the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry in Northeast Philadelphia. It is one of four lithographs (with Children’s Ward, Ward Rounds, and Accident Ward) commissioned by the pharmaceutical company Smith, Kline, and French, as part of its advertising campaign to promote advances in medicine. The lithographic reproductions were sold as a portfolio to doctors for decoration in their waiting rooms.
With distorted architectural perspective and the awkwardly contorted bodies of the patients, who seem encaged in their room, Riggs’s print presents a disturbing and macabre view of the mental hospital. The triumph of modern medicine seems lost in the anguish of these figures. Riggs made nine sketches in preparation for the print. His final product is a composite of his observations.