Thomas Cooper Gotch, “Mental Arithmetic” (1883)
The rather unusual title of Gotch’s painting suggests that a brief game of mental arithmetic is taking place in this realistically depicted scene and captures the admiration for a popular stage show of the time. Throughout the 19th century and early 20th century a number of virtuoso stage calculators that displayed apparently miraculous arithmetic skills, such as multiplying or factoring large numbers, attracted considerable interest by the public. The most talented and amazing calculating prodigies, such as the Italian Giacomo Inaudi (1867 – 1950), even toured around the world, performing in stage shows. The psychologist Alfred Binet (1857 – 1911) studied the abilities of calculating prodigies and chess players in his book “Psychologie des grands calculateurs et joueurs en echec” (1894).