New Brunswick, NJ – As the medical profession evolved during the 19th century and began to resemble modern practices and standards (with some advancements that continue to benefit society today), doctors and the field itself became popular subjects for artists, who documented the breakthroughs, as well as the foibles. The Doctor is In: Medicine in French Prints, on view at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers through July 31, presents works by such artists as Adrien Barrère, Honoré Daumier, Charles Maurin, and Hermann-Paul that range from serious to satirical, and sometimes contain not-so-subtle political commentary.
“Much like today, there was great general interest – whether due to distrust or respect – in doctors and the medical field during the 19th century,” explains Christine Giviskos, Associate Curator of European Art, who organized the exhibition. Drawn from the Zimmerli’s extensive collection of works on paper, the selections in the exhibition “demonstrate how both scientific breakthroughs, as well as traditional approaches, to curing illness were perceived and interpreted.”
Charles Maurin (1856-1914) was among the artists who glorified the era’s discoveries and the individuals who brought them to the masses. His etching La Sérotherapie (1896) honors microbiologist Émile Roux, who was noted for his work battling diphtheria and tetanus, as well as collaborating with Louis Pasteur in developing vaccines. This print references Roux’s success using serotherapy, a method that involves administering a therapeutic immune serum to an already infected patient. The method was used extensively before the availability of vaccines, which have since become a widely used preventive measure. Maurin conceived of Roux as a secular saint, surrounded by the many children saved with his treatments, who was lauded for groundbreaking advancements in fighting diseases that once were rampant among humans and livestock that now are managed in many parts of the world.
In addition to new treatments and procedures by doctors, a profusion of commercial products – some more reputable than others – promised to cure the prevailing ailments of the day. A respected French chemist, Raoul Bravais founded an eponymous and successful pharmaceutical company that developed and manufactured numerous elixirs and tonics. A painter and lithographer, Adolphe Léon Willette (1857-1926) created a poster in 1898 for Fer Bravais Contre L’Anemie (Bravais Iron – Treatment for Anemia) that became particularly recognizable, as the product exploded in popularity around the world. The advertisement depicts an exhausted young woman slumped at her sewing machine, alluding to the demands of modern life at the time (now often recognized as poor working conditions). The Fer Bravais tonic claims that it can revive her strength without the negative side effects caused by many other iron supplements used to remedy anemia.
Other artists were not strangers to the medical field. Hermann-Paul (1864-1940) was the son of a wealthy doctor and, to appease his father, initially studied science with the intention of pursuing a medical career. However, he ultimately pursued his artistic aspirations, becoming a successful printmaker and illustrator known for his satirical compositions. Paul was sympathetic to those in distress, though, and depicted the anxiety that can accompany illness. The 1895 lithograph Scene de Hôpital (Scene at the Hospital) shows a row of beds in a hospital ward, where patients seemingly have no privacy and likely are exposed to others’ diseases. His lithograph L’Enfant Malade (The Sick Child), from around the same time, conveys the nervousness and concern of parents who are caring for a sick baby.
Adrien Barrère also studied (but never practiced) medicine before pursuing a successful artistic career. He designed many posters for Parisian cinemas and Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol (The Grand Puppet Theatre), which was famous for its naturalistic horror shows. He also developed a specialty in medical caricatures. Barrère’s large lithograph The Doctors (Professors of the Académie de Medecine), created around 1903, was the first of four works he created depicting professors in the Faculties of Medicine in Paris. His recognizable likenesses of 15 accomplished teachers and researchers, several of them holding attributes of their specialties, became so popular that it was the rare Paris doctor’s office that didn’t have at least one of the prints hanging as a decoration. Among the notable figures: André Chantemesse, whose important discoveries in bacteriology are indicated by the flasks he holds; Georges Maurice Debove, an early advocate of social hygiene who was known for his work with such health issues as alcoholism and tuberculosis; and Adolphe Pinard and Pierre-Constant Budin, both obstetricians who pioneered modern perinatal care.
Other artists were not as admiring of the medical field. Caricaturist and painter Charles Joseph Traviès (1804–59) profusely contributed to the popular illustrated magazine Le Charivari, which was published from 1832 to 1937 and originally included caricatures, political cartoons, and reviews. However, when the government banned political caricature in 1835, Le Charivari adapted by publishing satires of everyday life. While underlying commentary may be lost on most modern audiences, readers at the time would have been aware of subtle clues indicating the true subjects of the scenes. Travies’s 1832 lithograph Ah! Docteur, ce maudit siège m’a fait bien du mal… (Doctor, this blasted chair is causing me a lot of pain), for example, contains a pun that would have been familiar in the 1830s. To many viewers, especially those who do not speak French, the scene appears to be simply of a revolutionary soldier complaining about bowel issues to a doctor. However, the French word “siège” has the dual meaning of “seat” and “siege,” and here also refers to an insurrection against the royalist government in the Brittany region, adding a layer of opinion about the conflict.
The publication also provided an outlet for Honoré Daumier (1808-79), who is often cited as the leading French caricaturist of the 19th century. He depicted scores of doctors and nurses, hypnotists and phrenologists, homeopaths and pharmacists, and general “quacks” in his usual scathing manner. His 1840 lithograph Le Médecin et la Garde Malade (The Doctor and the Caretaker) shows a verbal exchange between the two characters. The doctor’s responses essentially fault a patient for his own death, rather than even consider that his recommended treatment may have been to blame. The image originally appeared as part of “Emotions Parisiens,” a series of 51 lithographs capturing the foibles and calamities of Paris life that ran for three years in Le Charivari.
Journalist, caricaturist, and photographer Etienne Carjat (1828-1906) is best known for his images of political, literary, and artistic Parisian figures, including his iconic portraits of Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire. But he took a humorous approach to the medical profession with the lithograph Le Docteur Malgaigne (1862) for La Boulevard, an illustrated journal he founded in 1861. Joseph-François Malgaigne (1806-65) began his career as a military doctor and medical journalist before becoming a specialist in orthopedic surgery. He became a well-regarded doctor, contributing to advances in surgery as both a practitioner and teacher. But Carjat portrays him as a barber-surgeon – complete with scissors and apron – from an earlier era, about to perform a painful procedure on a terrified patient. Although many surgeons (and occasionally robotic arms) have advanced to a point that they leave little evidence of their work, some viewers may still share such historical sentiments at the thought of “going under the knife”!
The Doctor is In: Medicine in French Prints has been organized by Christine Giviskos, Associate Curator of European Art, with assistance from Leeza Cinar, Department of Art History, Rutgers University, Class of 2016.
ZIMMERLI ART MUSEUM|RUTGERS
The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in 19th-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.
Admission is free to the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. The museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street (at George Street) on the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.
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