This article highlights the role of psychiatric illness, mainly the affective disorders, in the work of famous painters throughout the centuries. Especially paintings from well-known artists such as Pieter Bruegel, Albrecht Dürer, Henri de Toulouse – Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, Edward Munch, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Frida Kahlo and Lucian Freud are discussed in detail. While pain and disease are unavoidable parts of human life artists are especially sensitive to suffering and melancholy. Artists should create honest and true art which gives a reflection of the times they live in. Through their art they should give a reason to look closer and understand people and circumstances. Overidentification of the artist with that mission may, however, lead to overwhelmingly deep compassion and may cause depression. On the positive side art may
contribute to higher awareness concerning many diseases and thus provide a strong impulse to more intense research activity or social tolerance, which finally will considerably improve the situation of the patients.