Frank Netter: The Physician, The Artist, The Art 

This selection of the art of Dr. Frank H. Netter on neuroanatomy and neurophysiology is drawn 
from the Atlas of Human Anatomy and Netter's Atlas of Human Physiology. Viewing these pictures 
again prompts reflection on Dr. Netter's work and his roles as physician and artist. 

Frank H. Netter was born in 1 906 in New York City. He pursued his artistic muse at the Sorbonne, 
the Art Student's League, and the National Academy of Design before entering medical school at 
New York University where he received his M.D. degree in 1931. During his student years, Dr. 
Netter's notebook sketches attracted the attention of the medical faculty and other physicians, allow- 
ing him to augment his income by illustrating articles and textbooks. He continued illustrating as a 
sideline after establishing a surgical practice in 1933, but ultimately opted to give up his practice in 
favor of a full-time commitment to art. After service in the United States Army during the Second 
World War, Dr. Netter began his long collaboration with the CIBA Pharmaceutical Company (now 
Novartis Pharmaceuticals). This 45-year partnership resulted in the production of the extraordinary 
collection of medical art so familiar to physicians and other medical professionals worldwide. 

When Dr. Netter's work is discussed, attention is focused primarily on Netter the artist and only 
secondarily on Netter the physician. As a student of Dr. Netter's work for more than forty years, I can 
say that the true strength of a Netter illustration was always established well before brush was laid to 
paper. In that respect each plate is more of an intellectual than an artistic or aesthetic exercise. It is 
easy to appreciate the aesthetic qualities of Dr. Netter's work, but to overlook its intellectual quali- 
ties is to miss the real strength and intent of the art. This intellectual process requires thorough under- 
standing of the topic, as Dr. Netter wrote: "Strange as it may seem, the hardest part of making a med- 
ical picture is not the drawing at all. It is the planning, the conception, the determination of point of 
view and the approach which will best clarify the subject which takes the most effort." 

Years before the inception of "the integrated curriculum," Netter the physician realized that a 
good medical illustration can include clinical information and physiologic functions as well as anato- 
my. In pursuit of this principle Dr. Netter often integrates pertinent basic and clinical science ele- 
ments in his anatomic interpretations. Although he was chided for this heresy by a prominent 
European anatomy professor, many generations of students training to be physicians rather than 
anatomists have appreciated Dr. Netter's concept. 

The integration of physiology and clinical medicine with anatomy has led Dr. Netter to another, 
more subtle, choice in his art. Many texts and atlases published during the period of Dr. Netter's 
career depict anatomy clearly based on cadaver specimens with renderings of shrunken and shriv- 
eled tissues and organs. Netter the physician chose to render "live" versions of these structures— not 
shriveled, colorless, formaldehyde-soaked tissues, but plump, robust organs, glowing with color! 

The value of Dr. Netter



This volume brings together two distinct but related aspects of the work of Frank 
H. Netter, MD, and associated artists. Netter is best known as the creator of the 
Atlas of Human Anatomy, a comprehensive textbook of gross anatomy that has 
become the standard atlas for students of the subject. But Netter's work included 
far more than anatomical art. In the pages of Clinical Symposia, a series of mono- 
graphs published over a period of more than 50 years, and in The Netter Collection 
of Medical Illustrations, this premier medical artist created superb illustrations of 
biological and physiological processes, disease pathology, clinical presentations, 
and medical procedures. 

As a service to the medical community, Novartis Pharmaceuticals has commis- 
sioned this special edition of Netter's work, which includes his beautiful and 
instructive illustrations of nervous system anatomy as well as his depictions of 
neurophysiological concepts and functions. We hope that readers will find Dr. 
Netter's renderings of neurological form and function interesting and useful.

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