© 2005, "A.Currell"


The Four Doctors 
The Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore [1] 
Oil on canvas  
 327.7 x 271.8 cm (129 x 109 in.)  
Jpg: A.Currellwww.jhu.edu

The painting of the Four Doctors was of the lead teaching physicians of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. They were: Dr. William H. Welch, the first Dean of the school, Dr. William Osler, Dr. William S. Halsted and Dr. Howard A. Kelly.  

Mary Elizabeth Garrett

The painting was commissioned by the board of trustees in honor of Mary Elizabeth Garrett whom, through her generosity, had given a large endowment for the creation of the medical school in 1889. Garrett herself had been painted by Sargent in 1904; and after the success of both her portrait and her friend's: Miss Carey Thomas, they felt Sargent would be the appropriate artist for this distinguished commission. 

The painting took almost a year to finish and was done in his studio at Tite Street in London.  

    Sargent felt the composition was lacking something, and upon contemplation came up with a possible solution. He asked the four distinguished physicians if they had any reservations about the introduction into the background of a large, old Venetian globe, an object housed in the artist's other studio [at Fulham Road]. The subjects had no misgivings and the globe was promptly delivered days after. Unfortunately, the globe was so massive it could not fit through the studio door. Undeterred, Sargent simply directed that the doorway, and a good chunk of the wall, be chopped to permit the object's entry. 
El Greco
St. Martin and the Beggar
St. Martin and the Beggar

    At the next sitting Sargent swiftly drew the globe's silhouette, stood back and brightly remarked, "We have got our picture." Or so he thought, as he would later add to the background a replica of El Greco's St. Martin and the Beggar painted by Jorge Manuel Theotocopouli, El Greco's son. It is believed that the work, part of Sargent's own collection, was used to add a vertical perspective 

    (The Gazette online January 29, 2001 
    VOL. 30, NO. 19)

Quotes regarding the painting from contemporary papers: 
    Where else in the present day shall we find heads painted like these?  
    -The Spectator
    A marvellously fine composition... The dextrous way in which the artist has used the hoods, the books, and the globe to relieve the gloom of gowns and backgrounds is beyond praise.  
    -London Times   

    Touches on absolute mastery within the limits of its aims. ...The masses of black are strong and elastic in structure, and each brush stroke is directly descriptive of surface character. The background is nobly handled, and the execution throughout of a power and insight that belie the rather photographic arrangement of the subject.  
    -The Athenaeum   

    It is a great portrait, because of its sound workmanship and the stamp of originality that is upon it.  
    -Royal Cortissoz  

    (W.H.Downes, John.S.Sargent His life and work)

(Editor's Note - the following is from an excerpt of a discussion board online)

From: Staten Island Talk
Date: May 17 2005
("Art" is speaking - Arthur O. Anderson, M.D.)

I can recall seeing a drawing he did of Mary Elizabeth Garrett [at Johns Hopkins] hanging

Mary Elizabeth Garrett

near the back door of the women's fund building on Wolf Street. This was back in the early 1970's when I was a pathology resident. This original Sargent drawing just hung there less than 4 feet from the door and with no one guarding it for quite a few years. I guess the institution was still trusting that people would treat it kindly and not run off with it. Eventually they moved it to a more secure place in the building.

Later I learned that Mary Elizabeth Garrett, the wife of the guy who created the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, was involved in a women's philanthropic group that created Bryn Mawr College and while they were at it they raised enough money to allow the Johns Hopkins Hospital and medical school to open its doors on time. It seems that Johns Hopkins' gift had depreciated because the market wasn't doing well in the latter half of the 19th century and the school needed an infusion of money to open.

Mary Elizabeth's gift, merged with the gifts of other women (including one of the Rockefeller daughters) allowed it to open on one condition. That condition was that the medical school would have to admit women as fully matriculating students. The trustees agreed and Hopkins was the first medical school to admit women. Not a lot but a few each year.

One of those women was the author Gertrude Stein (a rose is a rose is a rose!). She was a good medical student and became engaged in research in gynecology. The ovarian disorder called Stein-Levanthal Syndrome was partly discovered by Gertrude Stein but she quit medical school before the end of her senior year and set up a salon in Paris, for which she gained more fame and recognition than that of her masculinizing ovarian syndrome.

The other great John Singer Sargent picture at Hopkins hangs (or hung before it was sent off for curatorial care) in the Welch medical library is the image of the famous 4 physicians Osler, Kelly, Halstead and Welch who were involved in creating the extraordinary medical education that Abraham Flexner considered the best medical curriculum anywhere (. . .)

The Flexner report was very influential as defining Johns Hopkins as the model of academic medical education. At the time there were many so-called "proprietary" medical schools in the US. They accepted high school graduates and gave them a "trade school" form of medical education after which students would apprentice to practicing physicians (sort of like the way lawyers apprenticed themselves to practicing lawyers until ready to take the bar). The major problem is that none of these docs had a liberal arts education let alone the scientific education that might enable them to understand what they were doing and it was clear that in the early 1900's medicine was prime for a big academic boost. The Flexner Brothers Abraham (a Carnegie Institute funded Education Expert) and Simon (a Hopkins Trained microbiologist and head of the new Rockefeller Institute in NYC) were very influential in getting their case across. The fact that they had societal connections with Johns Hopkins University didn't hinder their advocacy for their alma mater... The fact that Hopkins was destined to live up to their claims was also set by the outstanding doctors who intended to practice the finest medicine, teach students and fellows by the bedside and conduct cutting edge research aimed at finding evidence for diagnosis and treatment of disease. Opinion once held equal weight to evidence but Osler, Welch, Halstead and Kelly were working on changing all that and that was moving toward good medical education.

I was a University of Maryland medical student but I took clinical clerkships at Baltimore City Hospital (now Francis Scott Key Medical center) where the house staff and attending physicians and professors were primarily from Johns Hopkins.

I did my internship and residency in Pathology at Johns Hopkins. I had my first academic faculty appointment in the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine while I served my Pathology residency. One of the Hopkins professors at City saw some drawings I made of a 113 lb lady who had a 50 lb ovarian tumor. When he saw them he asked me to become a special student in the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine. I did, and that was my introduction to medical illustration which I taught when I wasn't doing autopsies, presenting rounds, training residents and doing medical research.

By the way, I am actually giving a talk on medical illustration for the Johns Hopkins alumni group. They liked my web page and decided to find out about my Art and my Science. I put up an album of my old art work in the photo album part of this site. Here's the URL I put all the pictures I made that I still have in this album. They start with a painting I did when I was 13 in 1958 and progress through all kinds of stuff I made relatively recently.
Staten Island Talk)

May 24 2005

Natasha, Thanks for letting me know that you added my post to your page on the first four. I have to mention that I didn't remember exactly who the Sargent drawing was of. It was a charcoal sketch of a woman but it might not be Mary Elizabeth Garrett. It makes sence that it would be but it could have been of a Rockefeller.

I remember one day while I was doing an autopsy in 1970, a spry little lady came into the autopsy room and looked around. She was happy to see that an example of one of the original marble necropsy tables was mounted on the wall. The new tables were all stainless steel. After she left, one of the senior residents mentioned that she was one of the women, or a daughter of one, who helped endow this building. I wish I could remember her name. At that time I didn't know of the history about admitting female students.

One my favorite pathology professors at the time was Ella Hutzler Oppenheimer. I believe she was a Johns Hopkins medical student in the class of 1923. She was a sharp lady and very nice to us ambitious and nervous post docs.

Be sure to spell Johns Hopkins correctly. The man's name was a fusion of two prominent Quaker families. The Johns family and the Hopkins family.

Best regards.



Special thanks to Wonsug Jung, from Korea, a friend of the JSS Gallery for sending the quoates from from contemporary press found in Downes' book 

  • See the year in review 1906

From: Andrew J. Harrison
Date: 4/3/2001  

Dear Natasha, 

Upon doing a search regarding John Singer Sargent and The Four Doctors, I happened upon your web site.  I am writing this not to request you remove the painting but to correct your credit line.  It should read as 

[corrected above] 

I ask this only so that someone can track it back to its source if the need arises.  However, if anyone chooses to publish the image, they must contact the archives as Johns Hopkins University copyrighted the painting in 1913. Thanks and if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.  We are currently doing a cleaning and restoration of the work on site since it is too 
big to fit out the door.  It will appear in the updated Catalogue Raisonne when it is published later this year.  Thanks again and I enjoyed perusing your web site. 


Andrew J. Harrison 
Processing Archivist and Fine Arts Coordinator 
The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions 
The Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives 
2024 East Monument Street 
Suite 1-500 
Baltimore, MD 21205 
tel. 410-955-3043. fax 410-955-0810 
e-mail aharriso@jhmi.edu 


Created 2/15/2001