Fildes’s painting was inspired by the death of his son and the professional devotion of Dr Gustavus Murray who treated him. But this work shows the moment when a child shows the first sign of recovery. The redeeming light of dawn is shining on the child.In order to make the picture convincing Fildes constructed a cottage interior in his studio. He began work at dawn each day to catch the exact light conditions. The image of an ordinary doctor’s quiet heroism was a huge success with the late-Victorian public. It can be seen in the Tate Britain Gallery.
The Doctor exhibited 1891
Oil on canvas
support: 1664 x 2419 mm frame:
2075 x 2875 x 210 mm
Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1894
Steven Oliver HYMS: Sure many doctors would continue to relate to this image and the way in which it captures a clinician intently watching a sick patient, waiting to see ‘which way things will turn’. Of course the treatment in the bottle on the table was probably ineffective – and in reality the artist’s child died – so perhaps it also highlights how much ‘caring’ was valued, even when ‘curing’ was the rare exception.
I was looking for some examples of poetry by UA Fanthorpe (I’ll put some up more when I get round to it) and discovered that one of her books ‘A Watching Brief‘ had ‘The Doctor’ as it’s cover art and the following poem as it first, commissioned by the Tate Gallery. I’m not sure I can keep up with all of the references to art and artists in the middle section, but like the last stanza.
Sir Luke Fildes: The Doctor, Tate Gallery
‘That Jackson, he’s another one.
If he goes on opening windows we’ll all
Die of pneumonia.’
The native obsessions:
Health and the weather. Attendants have
The dogged, grainy look of subjects. Someone,
Surely, is going to paint them?
‘You don’t have a bad heart yet, do you?’
‘Not that I know of.’
‘They can examine you.’
‘But they don’t really know.’
The painters knew.
Gainsborough eyed his lovely, delicate daughters
And rich fat brewers: Turner his hectic skies.
They brooded on death by drowning (Ophelia, in real water);
Cloud without end; storm; storm coming on;
Bright exophthalmic eyes, consumptive colours,
And gorgeous goitred throats; the deluge,
The end of the world, and Adam’s
Appalling worm-wrapped birth.
Such patient watchers
Have eyes for those who watch. The child
Frets in its fever, the parents
Grieve in the background gloom. But the doctor,
Who has done all he can, and knows nothing
Will help or heal, sits raptly, raptly,
As if such absorbed attention were in itself
A virtue. As it is.