Rarely Seen Original Netter Paintings On Exhibit at Health Sciences Library

UNC’s newly remodeled Health Sciences Library is hosting an exhibition of original watercolor paintings and pencil drawings by renowned medical illustrator Dr. Frank H. Netter.

The original watercolors are from the collection owned by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., formerly CIBA. For many years, Netter illustrated the 13-volume CIBA collection of medical illustrations as well as articles in the CIBA Clinical Symposia.

The exhibition, “The Human Element: Clinical Portraits by Frank H. Netter, MD,” runs through Dec. 9 on three floors of the library. It will feature 26 gouache (watercolor) paintings from the collection of the Novartis Pharmaceuticals, which is supporting the exhibition. In addition to the watercolors, 11 original Netter pencil sketches from the library’s collection will be shown.

Born in New York in 1906, Netter pursued his passion for art in high school and later at the Art Students League in New York. His work included commercial illustration, portrait work and scenic painting, including art for the Saturday Evening Post, Life and Esquire. He received his medical degree from New York University in 1931.

Anne Wood Humphries, curator of the exhibition, said she selected pieces that showed the humanistic aspects of Netter’s art.

“Though he is well known for his meticulous attention to detail in anatomical drawings of tendons, arteries and every organ of the human body, Netter never lost sight of the humanity of his patients,” she said. “Their faces and expressions are always portrayed with the utmost dignity and understanding.”

For example, in the sketch for “Measurement of Blood Pressure in Infants,” instead of just showing a baby’s arm and the instrument, Netter portrayed the child looking up at the physician with curiosity.

Netter had said: “When a doctor looks at one of my clinical illustrations he feels that he is actually with the patient because it is real and true . I try to keep the human aspect ever present in the tone of my illustrations.”

Netter died in 1991, and his work is still featured in new textbooks and used by physicians and health professionals worldwide.

Fred Kaplan, a consulting editor for the CIBA collection, has said: “Why is Frank Netter so special to physicians? The answer is simple: his pictures. From the very beginning of our careers, we studied the panoply of human afflictions through the Netter pictures. Their stringent clarity, stunning accuracy, and startling beauty illuminated the path of learning for each of us.”

UNC’s Health Sciences Library was the beneficiary of a number of Netter’s papers and original pencil sketches, which were contributed in his honor by his daughter, Francine Netter Roberson ’00 (MBA). She also created the Frank H. Netter, M.D. Endowment, designed to support library access to medical knowledge.

The Health Sciences Library, which is open to the public, reopened last spring after extensive renovations. The library’s Collaboration Center includes a 16-monitor display wall and other technology and library services designed to encourage collaboration among scientists and educators both on campus and afar.

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