Moments in Surgical History |

Folk Art Portraiture of Early American Surgeons

Ira M. Rutkow, MD, MPH, DRPh
Arch Surg. 1999;134(7):782. doi:10.1001/archsurg.134.7.782.
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PRIOR TO THE INVENTION of photography in its most rudimentary form (ie, daguerreotypes, circa, 1839), portraiture was the only available means to have one's likeness recorded for posterity. Although many well-known artists of the 18th and early 19th centuries engaged in such work, it was unusual to find surgeons depicted on their canvases. This is particularly evident in the work of John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), one of the most popular American portrait painters of his day. Merchants and other businessmen constituted the bulk of Copley's patrons, while ministers and public officials also figured in fair numbers, in addition to a smattering of military personnel. Only 3 of Copley's subjects were physicians: Joseph Warren (1741-1775), painted circa 1765; Nathaniel Perkins and Sylvester Gardiner (1707-1786), both painted in the early 1770s.

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"Peter Guernsey, the Eye Doctor," as painted by Ammi Phillips in 1828 (From the Collection of Richard D. Della Penna, MD, and Mearl A. Naponic, MD, San Diego, Calif).

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