I have always been interested in physicians who incorporated art into their life and practice, and one of them was Jean Martin Charcot. A towering figure in the medical world of the 19th Century, Charcot was born in 1825 and finished medical school at age 23. He became director of the Saltpêtrière in Paris, an asylum for beggars, prostitutes and the insane, where he carried the title of Professor of Pathological Anatomy and developed this former gun factory into a center for neurology and neurophysiology. His clinic attracted students from all over Europe, and he is remembered today for many diseases which bear his name.
Charcot also has the distinction of using art and photography to study his patients, but few are aware that Charcot carried a sketchbook in his travels. Today Charcot would be considered an Urban Sketcher.
Charcot died in 1893, and in 1898, Henry Meige published a selection from Charcot’s sketchbooks. The publication is available on-line through the HathiTrust Digital Library, and a copy is owned by the New York Academy of Medicine. When I learned of this publication I wanted to make copies available to Urban Sketchers, but could not get good quality from the scans on the web. So I went to the New York Academy of Medicine Rare Book Room where I was allowed to photograph the sketches which are reproduced in this post.
Charcot likely used a dip pen with metal nib. He dabbled in scenics and caricatures, and you can almost see the influence of Honoré Daumier – a French artist who was Charcot’s contemporary.
You can imagine Charcot sketching his colleague while sitting in a medical meeting.
Charcot’s sketches are very expressive and full of whimsy, and the strokes of his pen have courage and feeling. Had Charcot been alive today, he certainly would have joined up with Urban Sketchers on sketch walks through Europe.
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Special thanks to Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian at the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room.
Reference for this post is: Meige, H. Charcot Artiste, in: Nouvelle Iconographie de la Saltpêtriere, v. 11, 1898. Paris. Libraires de L’Academie de Médecine, available on-line at this link.
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