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Revista médica de Chile

Print version ISSN 0034-9887


CABELLO C, Felipe. Painting realism and medicine: the two surgical clinics of Thomas Eakins. Rev. méd. Chile [online]. 2015, vol.143, n.6, pp.787-794. ISSN 0034-9887.

Realism is a painting style that began with Millet and Courbet in politically convulsed France in the middle of the nineteenth century. In the second half of that century, the pragmatic and democratic tradition of the United States fostered the careers of many realist painters, including that of Thomas Eakins. Eakins, trained in France, developed his career completely associated with Philadelphia at a time when this city was in the vanguard of American emerging industry, culture and medicine. Eakins "The clinic of Dr. Gross" and the "The clinic of Dr. Agnew" are icons of these developments and symbolize a perfect union of art and medicine. Both paintings permit the viewer to appreciate the artist's mastery, originality and Americanism while simultaneously tracking the progress of surgery as evidenced by the introduction of asepsis, anesthesia and nursing. Eakins mastery is revealed by its use of some European Old Masters approaches to portray medical professionals undertaking their daily duties in their work environments with critical and unadorned vision. This combination of vision and skills led Eakins to create a highly original yet analytical art. Unfortunately, his representations were far ahead of his time and resulted in under appreciation of his paintings and a censorious reaction to their content. His contemporaries rejection of Eakins work negatively affected his career as a painter, as a teacher and even his private life. This judgment was overturned in subsequent years and by the twentieth century Eakins was recognized as an American master without parallel.

Keywords : Asepsis; Medical history; Surgery; Thomas Eakins.

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