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William was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease in 1995 and was immediately put on to new drug which had to be monitored. We regularly attended the neurological hospital in Queens Square where we were fortunate to find in nurse Ron Isaacs who regularly assessed him, a sympathetic listener. William, bravely began to paint himself, desperately trying to understand what was happening to his mind. As the pictures progressed he showed them to Nurse Isaacs and other members of the group who were attending him, all of whom were part of Dr Rossors team. They found them clinically interesting they asked permission to create a paper for the Lancet.

In these pictures we see with heart-breaking intensity Williams efforts to explain his altered self, his fears and his sadness.

The great talent remains, but the method changes. He sometimes uses water-colour and paints a series of masks, perhaps because he could more quickly express his fear. In both the oils and water-colours these marvellous self portraits express his desperate attempt to understand his condition. There is a new freedom of expression, the paint is applied more thickly, art-historically speaking the artist seems less linear and classical, more expressionist, and I see ghosts of his German heritage. William is still alive, but can no longer draw and seems to have withdrawn into a solitary and private world, sometimes making sounds which I imagine for him is talking, and very occasionally, I believe he recognises me.

The portrait art of William Utermohlen over an 8 year period.

1999

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