This is a large oil painting (over six feet tall), painted between 1934 and 1935 by the English painter Reginald Brill. It is one in a series of large paintings called 'The Martyrdom of Man', showing people at work. Others in the series show construction workers (a painting in Tate Britain) and jurors. Surgical scenes have always been more popular with artists than medical ones, because of the multitude of figures, their varied poses, and the contrast between the surgeon and the assistants. However, a painting of ordinary working people on such a heroic scale is unusual and reflects two influences. One is the Socialist Realism movement, particularly in the Soviet Union, which emphasized the heroism of the everyday. This explains the immensely tall figure of the anaesthetist holding the bottle in the foreground. The other was formed by the two leading British centres of figure painting in the 1920s and 1930s, the Slade School of Fine Art at University College London and the British School in Rome. Brill studied at both, and in Rome learned to emulate the then fashionable Italian painter Piero della Francesca. The Wellcome Library picture copies Piero's colouring.
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