READ: ‘The Portraiture of Loss’ by Dr Suzannah Biernoff

New in Feature Articles, some long weekend reading: ‘The Portraiture of Loss’ by Dr Suzannah Biernoff from Issue 2 – Janus Faces.

This essay discusses plastic surgery pioneer and artist Henry Tonks during the time of his groundbreaking work during World War I at St Mary’s Hospital, Kent.

Contains disturbing images. 

Henry Tonks, 'Portrait of wounded soldier after surgery', Deeks case file, 1916-1917, pastel. Courtesy of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and the Gilles Archives.

[Excerpt] “There was no ethics committee to debate the legitimacy and uses of Tonks’ work with Gillies’ team, and the patients were not party to discussions about the exhibition, or potential propaganda value, of their wounded faces. Tonks himself thought the pastels ‘rather dreadful subjects for the public view’ and discouraged the interest of officials in the government’s propaganda unit at Wellington House. We don’t know how the men felt about being drawn. We do not even know if they saw their own portraits; mirrors were prohibited in Gillies’ ward at Aldershot, although this didn’t prevent one corporal in the care of Nurse Catherine Black from getting hold of one: having seen his face he asked for a pen and paper so that he could write to his sweetheart, Molly. ‘You’re well enough to see her now,’ Catherine Black remembers saying, ‘Why not let her come down?’ ‘She will never come now,’ he said quietly …”

Read the full article here.

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