The Mad Ones

An eighteenth century trompe-l’œil in my living room holds the words ‘Everybody does as he pleases, that’s why the country is full of mad people’. These words should of course be understood in an eighteenth century revolutionary context. Nevertheless, I prefer a more Kerouacean interpretation.


In chapter one of On the road, protagonist Sal Paradise states: ‘The only people for me are the mad ones.’ The late 18th century trompe-l’œil in my living room somehow mirrors these famous words by Kerouac. In the left corner is stated: ‘Elk gevalt zijn manier, daarom is het land vol gekken’ (Everybody does as he pleases, that’s why the country is full of mad people). The pencil drawing is dated 1796 and these words must be seen in the light of political events of these days. French revolutionary armies had occupied the country, the stadtholder was gone, the Dutch Republic had been abolished and was replaced by the Batavian Republic. Total madness indeed.

Trompe l'oeil. Diderik Waller, c. 1796.
Trompe l’oeil. Diderik Waller, c. 1796. Drawing, pen and black, brown and green ink, red crayon and pencil.

Diderik Waller

Arguably, the artist Diderik Waller was not particularly happy with the political situation in the country. Waller came from a family of Amsterdam regents, who had slowly risen in the upper classes of the city in the eighteenth century. Political turmoil is rarely favorable for those in power, but the power balance shifted several times in the Netherlands in those days. I could trace the phrase ‘een land vol gekken’ only in one other occasion late eighteenth century. In an anonymous letter that was published in the Geldersche Courant, 26 May 1787, the Patriot author ends his plea for more stability in office with the words: ‘The land is full of mad people, they want to deprive each other of the stick’ [of power].

Het land is vol gekken
Geldersche historische courant 26-05-1787. Source: Delpher

The political upheaval between the Patriots and Orangists was serious business. A closer look on the other elements of the trompe-l’œil reveals a lighter attitude. The sheet music in the lower left corner is named ‘Vivace’, which means lively, or vigorous. The accompanying text is supposed to be humorous: ‘Our father told us to live a joyful life, invite many guests, be greedy, but do it in a penny-pinching way.’ The drawing in red crayon appears to be some sort of jester, or commedia dell’arte servant or trickster. Is it coincidence that the jester slowly turns orange over time?

Trompe l’oeil [Detail]
Trompe l’oeil. Detail.


‘The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.’ The kerouacean approach to Wallers trompe-l’œil would be to embrace and celebrate the madness.

The world is still full of mad, dazed, confused, delirious and ecstatic people. To politicians, managers and authorities they are unpredictable, hard to control and always a threat to their respective offices. Yet, under the right circumstances the mad ones might also be highly creative, groundbreaking and interesting. We need some undefined madness. So far, 2018 has not been declared as the international year for any specific topic by the United Nations. I suggest that we take the opportunity to declare this the international year of angelic madness.

%d bloggers like this: