Professor Hutchison specialises in diseases and injuries affecting the face. He is based at the historic St Bartholomew’s Hospital and the Royal London Hospital. He spoke of the relationship between art and medicine, mentioning Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo amongst artists who made representations of the anatomy of the human body, and also spoke of William Hogarth, whose murals of The Pool of Bethesda can be seen in the Great Hall at Bart’s Hospital.
The professor related some of the history of surgeons who worked on restoring faces ravaged by injury or disease, including:
- Harold Gillies, who worked on pioneering plastic surgery in the First World War
- Italian surgeon Tanzini,who invented a technique of using a pedicled flap of skin and underlying latissimus dorsi muscle. The development of his work was held back for some decades after being somewhat denigrated by Gillies, but his ideas are now very influential.
- Dr Varaztad Kazanjian, a refugee from the Armenian genocide, and Professor of Dentistry, who worked on the front line in WW1, was knighted, studied medicine at Harvard, and became a founding father of plastic and reconstructive surgery in the USA
Professor Hutchison was brought up by two refugees: his mother and aunt, both Viennese Jewish doctors whose father was also a doctor. They fled from the Nazis in the late 1930s, were taken in by Quakers, and worked at the beginning of the Second World War as chambermaids, initially in Tunbridge Wells. After the war they set up as GPs in the Midlands. When the Professor’s mother, Dr. Martha Redlich, died, he set up a charity in her name, initially used to purchase occasional pieces of surgical equipment. However, by 1995 he decided to use her legacy to create something in the spirit of the work done by Harold Gillies and Henry Tonks. In 1998 he established the Saving Faces Art Project, employing Mark Gilbert as artist-in-residence within his surgical department.
Their shared aim was to help bring about acceptance of changed faces not only by patients themselves, but also by members of the public. The belief that people could find a painting of such damaged faces much less shocking than photographs, was borne out by members of our audience, who looked away from coloured photographs projected onto a screen in front of us. Mark Gilbert’s practice, which included taking a selection of photographs of operations, was also to ask patients if they would be willing to sit for portraits before and after their operations. The sitters, Professor Hutchison told us, were proud of these paintings, and wanted them shown to others. They must have had a profound effect on visitors to a travelling exhibition of 100 portraits. One person wrote 6 pages of comment in the visitors’ book, and another wrote “Testino showed the beautiful people, but these are the really beautiful people”.
The professor told us that in his experience, returning to normal life is what people want. The late actress Sheila Gish returned to the stage in The Seagull just six weeks after surgery, having lost bones of her face and an eye to melanoma. Courage indeed.
Professor Hutchison wants to raise four x £5m to endow four professors to lead the Centre’s work into the future. Saving Faces will control (and protect) their funding, not the hospital. JK Rowling has already promised to match £1m donation if it can be raised. One of the fellowships will, he hopes, be named for Alan Rickman, who was a patron.
If any readers of this blog can help with crowdfunding, he would be glad to hear from them.
Interestingly, Hall Place was the birthplace of another surgeon, Julius Jeffreys, who may well, I like to think, have crossed paths with my great-great-grandparents, John Howard Wakefield and his wife Maria Suffolk.
Hogarth Murals at Barts
Surgeon Julius Jeffreys
John Howard Wakefield & Maria Suffolk