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The hospital drawings of Barbara Hepworth
  1. John Launer
  1. Correspondence to Dr John Launer, Faculty Development, Health Education England, Stewart House, 32 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DN, UK; john.launer{at}

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“Ladies and gentlemen, I must ask you to be patient with my deficiencies as a speaker – I have never spoken in public before and would not have attempted to speak about ‘the artist's view of surgery’ but for the fact that to refuse seemed ungracious when I, myself, owe so much to the kindness and generosity and help on the part of many surgeons who made my studies in the operating theatre possible.”1 The speaker here was Barbara Hepworth, one of the greatest British sculptors of the twentieth century. She was addressing a group of surgeons in Exeter in 1953. The ‘studies’ she mentioned were some remarkable drawings she had made in operating theatres for a few years following the second world war. As she explained during her presentation: “From the first moment I was entirely enthralled by the classic beauty of what I saw there; classic in the sense that architecture and function were perfectly blended and purity of idea and grace of execution were in complete harmony.”

Hepworth's vision of the aesthetic beauty of surgery arose from a chance encounter and the …

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