Faculty Affiliate in Residence Keren Hammerschlag recently published an article in the British Art Journal titled ‘William Orpen: Looking at Bodies in Medicine and Art.’ The paper concerns the work of Sir William Newenham Montague Orpen, an Irish artist who worked mainly in London. Known as one of the most prolific of the official artists sent by Britain to the Western Front, he there produced drawings and paintings of ordinary soldiers, dead men, and German prisoners of war, as well as portraits of generals and politicians. Dr. Hammerschlag’s paper is concerned with medical diagnostic looking and artistic evaluation in the artwork of Orpen, and the intersections between these two phenomena. From the paper:
Orpen, who is best known as successor to John Singer Sargent as the foremost Edwardian portrait painter, produced numerous pictures of doctors, artists and connoisseurs looking. They testify to the fact that in medical diagnostics, as in the production and evaluation of artworks, specialised visual skills are required. This is nowhere more the case than in his 1901 painting A Mere Fracture (Pl 1) of a doctor examining a fractured leg in a domestic interior. Through the close, ‘anatomical’ looking of the doctor, Orpen pictured the primacy of vision in his realist project, which emphasised both close observation of surface detail and knowledge of anatomy. In this way the painting is emblematic of the artist’s complex engagement with the nature of visual examination in both medicine and art, a theme to which Orpen would return repeatedly throughout his career.