Doctoring The Craft Of Medical Illustration – The Work Of Frank H. Netter, M.D.

The Work Of Frank H. Netter, M.D.

I first came into contact with the illustrations of Frank Netter while in a small used bookstore in New England 25 years ago. They had a copy of “The CIBA Collection Of Medical Illustrations” from 1948. It’s an unassuming looking oversize volume in a blue cover, but contains a wild spin on what I’d always thought was a clinical, cut and dry world that would only be of interest to doctors, surgeons, and medical students. . .

The Work Of Frank H. Netter, M.D.

Frank H. Netter, M.D. (1906-1991) was a physician, and a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine, but also a leading medical illustrator. He studied at the National Academy of Design and the Arts Students League while attending NYU and working at Bellevue. He supplemented his studies and income with illustration commissions, sometimes for his professors. Although he soon had his own private practice in NYC, he continued his work as an artist but after a misunderstanding wherein Netter asked for $1,500 for a series of 5 pictures and an advertising manager agreed to and paid $1,500 each – $7,500 for the series – Netter gave up the practice of medicine. His relationship with CIBA began in 1936 with the depiction he designed of a fold-out human heart used to promote the sale of the medicine Digitalis. His work was also used to market Novacain. He’s best known for illustrating the multiple volume CIBA Medical Illustrations set. In 1989, his “Atlas Of Human Anatomy” was published and is considered a staple of medical education.

My fascination with Netter’s work comes from how he’d often employ what feels like a documentary approach to his designed scenarios. These aren’t just clinical depictions or representations, they have a personality and even a warmth that initially stunned me. The individual stamp of Netter’s hand is always there. . . not what I expected from the world of  medical manuals. . .

The Work Of Frank H. Netter, M.D.

The Work Of Frank H. Netter, M.D.

The Work Of Frank H. Netter, M.D.

The Work Of Frank H. Netter, M.D.

The Work Of Frank H. Netter, M.D.

The Work Of Frank H. Netter, M.D.

(Nerd note: he also wrote and illustrated, the obscure “Fad Diets Can Be Deadly” in 1975).

 

9 thoughts on “Doctoring The Craft Of Medical Illustration – The Work Of Frank H. Netter, M.D.

  1. Andy

    I am an MD and teach Anatomy at the undergraduate level. 
    I use Netter to teach and by far he is the best medical illustrator of all times.  Its not just
    for the detail of the images, its for the understanding of the Anatomy.  He knew
    exactly what to put in and what to leave out, and the best view to picture it.  If anyone has
    any original prints, I would be interested in purchasing one.

  2. skeptigal

    My dad was an internist and we had the privilege of seeing Dr. Netter’s medical illustrations all the time.  They always freaked me just a tad (I was just a little kiddle), but it was par for the course in a medically-oriented house.  We didn’t have Time, Newseek, or Life.  No, we had JAMA, Medical Economics, and New England Journal of Medicine.  And, no, I did not become a doctor (just a sceince teacher!).
     
    On a related note, I used to babysit for Bev Etter, who was a medical illustrator who lived in our city.  I always thought it was odd, Netter and Etter, both medical illustrators.

  3. Craig Luce

    Thanks for this posting. It was my honor to work with Dr. Netter just before his passing (see URL) and yet what I was most reminded-of while reading this was FHN’s instinctual ability to paint anything with the light coming directly from the viewer, known as coaxial lighting. I had first assumed that Frank just used a lot of flash photography for reference, but not a trace of his own photographs did *I ever see. It was “just the way commercial illustration was taught” [his words] up to the 1950′s.  When I talked with him directly about this, he said he had used live models sometimes, but “generally constructed everything in the picture.” Amazing.
    One who knows can spot the people depicted (most-often his second wife), including many self-portraits, and children in the neighborhood. A new, personal book on the man (written by his daughter, Francine Netter Roberson) is released this year.  BTW, the top picture is in his Palm Beach condo at the Breakers, and he’s enjoying one of his many cigars– only after painting the anatomy orbit in watercolor (something I emulated, to repeat next year). This PR shot was displayed as the frontispiece of several volumes.
    Thanks for this reminder of his genius.

  4. Marti Hansell

    Really? That’s the most intelligent thing you have to say?
    Netter’s illustrations are incredibly valuable reference material and beautifully done.
    Keep your irrelevant, moronic commnets to yourself.

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