24 Portrait of a Wounded Soldier before Treatment

Title: Portrait of a Wounded Soldier before Treatment

Artist/Source: Henry Tonks (1862 – 1937)

Date: 1917

Medium/Technique: pastel on paper

UCL Art Museum #2800

One of the most influential teachers at the Slade School of Art during the early twentieth century, Henry Tonks (1862 1937) came to the Slade through an unusual route. Prior to his post at the Slade, he qualified to become a doctor, training first at Brighton’s medical school, then London Hospital, and eventually the Royal Free Hospital, only a few miles from the Slade in Hampstead. During long days in the dissecting room studying and drawing anatomy, he developed an interest in the arts, leading him to attend drawing lessons at the Westminster School of Art under Frederick Brown. In 1892 Brown was appointed Slade Professor and offered Tonks a position. Tonks’ career at the Slade involved the teaching of some of it’s most brilliant graduates, including Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler, William Roberts and Christopher Nevinson. Like many Slade staff and students, Tonks served as a wartime artist.

The Royal College of Surgeons presented this pastel portrait by Henry Tonks to UCL in 1963. It depicts a soldier who suffered a gunshot wound to his lower lip that tore apart his chin and the floor of his mouth in September 1917. The soldier’s surgeon, Sir Harold Gillies, significantly improved skin grafting and became known as the father of plastic surgery as a result of his war efforts. Tonks depicted many of Gillies’ thousands of patients in the course of treatment at military hospitals in Aldershot and Sidcup, 1916-18. Two thousand patients were sent in 1916 alone for treatment after the bloody Battle of the Somme. Gillies was a perfectionist, and some of his patients endured as many as fifty operations to produce satisfactory results for the surgeon, the phases of which Tonks recorded. His many empathetic and dignified portraits of plastic surgery patients are unusual both in their pastel medium and striking subjects.

Aged 30, the patient here, like many others, arrived on Gillies’ operating table in December 1917 to receive several operations. Prior to the final operation, he caught pneumonia and returned to Nigeria with a dental appliance designed to be temporary. The records indicate, however, that he did not return. These remain today in the Gillies Archive at Queen Mary’s Hospital as Case File 70811, the patient remaining nameless.


Emma Chambers, Henry Tonks: Art and Surgery, UCL Art Museum, London 2002.

Related works:

Please consult UCL Art Museum’s on-line collections catalogue for the many drawings by Henry Tonks at UCL.


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