The Misidentification of Clerambault's and Kandinsky-Clerambault's Syndromes

Vladimir Lerner, MD, PhD1, Alexander Kapstan, MD2, Eliezer Witztum, MD3

Eponymic terms or eponyms are labels describing phenomena that reflect the name(s) of the person(s) who first described the phenomena. Using a similar term to describe different forms of pathology leads to a muddle. In this paper, we describe “Clerambault’s syndrome” and “Kandinsky-Clerambault’s syndrome” and discuss and clarify the confusion surrounding these different syndromes.

(Can J Psychiatry 2001;46:441-443)

Key Words: eponyms, Clerambault's syndrome, Kandinsky-Clerambault's syndrome, mental automatism, erotomania

Eponymic terms or eponyms are labels describing phenomena that reflect the name(s) of the person(s) who first described the phenomena. Eponyms were coined at various points during the history of psychiatry and reflect different phases of its development. Unfortunately, the stories of many researchers and clinicians have been forgotten, though their eponyms are still in use. Sometimes, different authors use the same label to refer to somewhat differing phenomena, and as a result, the underlying diagnosis may be confused or misunderstood. Likewise, using a similar term to describe totally different forms of pathology also leads to a muddle. We wish to discuss this latter form of confusion, which exists between the terms “Clerambault’s syndrome” and “Kandinsky-Clerambault’s syndrome.”

These are 2 unconnected clinical syndromes. The first, which was described only by Gaëtan Gatian de Clerambault, deals with erotomania and is well known in psychiatry, while the second, described independently by 2 psychiatrists—Victor Kandinsky and de Clerambault, is less known and is used mainly by French and Russian psychiatrists.

Russian psychiatrist Victor Khrisanfovich Kandinsky (1849–1889), an uncle of the famous artist Vassily Kandinsky, was born in Siberia into a family of successful businessmen. In 1877, he served as a military physician in the Balkans during the Russo-Turkish war, and from then on he suffered from mood fluctuations (1). Kandinsky’s initial research on hallucinations was a based on a detailed description of his own hallucinatory experiences (2).


Manuscript received September 2000 and accepted March 2001.
1Ward Director, Mental Health Center, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be’er-Sheva, Israel.
2Psychiatrist, Mental Health Center, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be’er-Sheva, Israel.
3Professor, Mental Health Center, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be’er-Sheva, Israel.
Address for correspondence: Dr V Lerner, Be’er-Sheva Mental Health Center, PO Box 4600, Be’er -Sheva, 84170, Israel
e-mail: lernervld@yahoo.com

He also reported that, while his physician diagnosed him as having Melancholia, his own diagnosis was Primäre Verrücktheit, which Berrios anachronistically translated as “schizophrenia-like state” (2). Kandinsky’s classic German-language book on pseudohallucinations was published in 1885, after he had moved from Moscow to St Petersburg. It should be noted that Kandinsky published several articles in German and in French. In 1889, at the age of 40, Kandinsky committed suicide by taking an overdose of morphine. Sadly, he was a patient in St Nicolas hospital in St Petersburg at that time, whereas he had previously been the hospital’s superintendent (2). In a monograph written in Russian and published posthumously by his widow in 1890, he described a syndrome of mental automatism that, as mentioned above, was largely based on his self-observation. The syndrome involved alienation from or loss of one’s own mental processes (cognitive, sensory and motor), which are attributed to somebody else, combined with delusions of physical or mental influences, such as stealing or insertion of thoughts (3).

Gaëtan Gatian de Clerambault (1872–1934) was born at la Bourges, not far from Paris. After finishing high school in 1888, he studied at the School for Decorative Art. After that, at his father’s request and in accordance with family tradition, he studied law, and only after graduation did he begin to study medicine. He dedicated his doctorate to pilot health after aircraft accidents (4). Starting in 1898, he worked as an internist. From 1905 until his death in 1934, de Clerambault worked in different fields of medicine. He was a well-educated, successful figure, not only in medicine but also in art—many of his paintings are now in museums, as is a model of clothes with oriental motifs that he created. His encyclopedic knowledge included 5 languages, 1 of which was Arabic. When a cataract operation was unsuccessful, he became depressed with melancholic symptoms and delusions of guilt, and, in November of 1934, he committed suicide by firearm (4). In 1942, Jean Frete published 2 volumes of de Clerambault’s works under the name Oeuvre psychiatrique (5).