Anatomical Art in the Royal Academy

Anatomical artist Eleanor Crook reflects on the University of Reading’s Minnie Jane Hardman Collection.

‘Lady Artist’: Minnie Jane Hardman (née Shubrook)

Minnie Jane Hardman (née Shubrook) and I attended the Royal Academy Schools at points a century apart. Hardman was a student at the Royal Academy in the 1880s and I trained there myself in the 1990s. The University of Reading owns over 125 original pieces by Hardman, including examinations on perspective, anatomical and life drawings, and examples of her superb sketches and stippling – many of which were awarded prizes by the Academy. With members from the University’s Health Humanities Research Group, I looked through Hardman’s anatomical studies and sketchbook earlier this month. Looking through her artschools work from the Academy was very touching and certainly gave me a lot to think about. Her figure drawings and anatomy studies were a discipline in their day, more formative, I suspect, than enjoyable. Like practicing scales and arpeggios at a classical music conservatoire, one was there to hone skills and train the machine of rendering within the perceptual and recording apparatus that that style of representation demanded. It must have been such hard work, especially as it was pitched in competition against the men at the Academy (who would have received a deeper training and had the advantage of higher expectations). I expect that for any budding art student each drawing was to begin a welter of self-doubt and intimidation under the supervision of strict and critical masters. Not to mention the pressure of actual Rubenses, actual Reynoldses, and actual Delacroixes bearing down from the walls of the academy! In fact, I am reminded of a famous passage from Karl Marx:

The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis, they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language.

The Academy’s schools’s august tradition certainly had that effect on me and some of my contemporaries.

These reflections make me love, really love, Hardman’s drawings and appreciate how wonderful that they are being cared for, studied, and rescued from obscurity by Naomi Lebens, the University’s art curator. Naomi showed us a little book of press cuttings, left by Hardman. I think, on some level, that the artist left her press cuttings book for researchers, thinking they would find it useful. The most obscure of us harbour a fantasy that one day our art school drawings will be dusted off and looked through by a sympathetic eye – that one day we might make something that would give our sketches a retrospective importance. Otherwise, we’d throw them away.

Eleanor Crook trained in sculpture at Central St Martins and the Royal Academy and makes figures and effigies in wax, carved wood, and lifelike media. She has also made a special study of anatomy and has sculpted anatomical and pathological waxworks for the Gordon Museum of Pathology at Guy’s Hospital, London’s Science Museum, and the Royal College of Surgeons of England. She exhibits internationally in both fine art and science museum contexts.

New Chapter: “She Sleeps Well & Eats an Egg”: Convalescent Care in Early Modern England

By Hannah Newton (History)

Today in western healthcare, a special branch of medicine is dedicated to the care of patients recovering from critical illnesses – rehabilitation or convalescent medicine. Involving a host of professionals, including intensive care specialists, nutritionists, clinical psychologists, and occupational therapists, rehabilitation medicine seeks to help patients regain their former physical and emotional health after a life-threatening or debilitating disease. We might be tempted to assume that convalescent medicine is a modern invention, which coincided with advances in medicine; back in the ‘olden days’, when remedies were ineffective or even dangerous, surely the sick would have died rather than recovered. In a new open access chapter, ‘She Sleeps Well and Eats an Egg’, I show that this was not the case. Convalescents were ubiquitous in early modern England. Typically described as ‘pale as marble’ and ‘lean as skeletons’, these patients were deemed worthy of their own distinctive type of medicine, which was designed to restore strength and flesh to the body, and prevent relapse into disease. To achieve these aims, doctors and family members monitored and managed what were known as the ‘six non-naturals’, the patient’s excretions, sleep, food, emotions, air, and exercise. A gentle laxative, followed by nutritious and easily digestible food, merry company, and plenty of sleep, expanded the body’s ‘spirits’ and ‘radical moisture’, thereby fattening and enlivening the whole person. I argue that these various interventions constituted a concept of convalescent care, or to use the contemporary term, ‘analeptics’.

This open access chapter is part of a collection on Conserving Health in Early Modern Culture (Manchester University Press, July 2017), edited by Sandra Cavallo and Tessa Storey. Here is the download link: