Doctoring The Craft Of Medical Illustration – 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. . .
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. . .
(Nerd note: he also wrote and illustrated, the obscure “Fad Diets Can Be Deadly” in 1975).