John Collins Warren Portrait

WLMD ID: alaa

This oil portrait of the eminent surgeon John Collins Warren, M. D. (1778-1856) was painted in 1878 by Augusta Dudley, a New York artist who had been trained in Paris.  It is a copy of the portrait painted by the Boston artist, Francis Alexander around 1830.  That original is one of only two known paintings for which Dr. Warren posed.  The copy was probably commissioned for the 100th anniversary of Dr. Warren's birth.

In 1845, Dr. Warren gave the dentist Horace Wells an opportunity to demonstrate a new technique: surgical anesthesia using nitrous oxide gas.  That demonstration was a failure, and many considered the idea a hoax.  This did not keep Dr. Warren from giving the same opportunity to Wells’ former partner, dentist William T. G. Morton, the following year.  Morton’s successful demonstration of ether anesthesia was only one of many feathers in the forward-thinking Dr. Warren’s cap. He was the first dean of Harvard Medical School, a founder of the Massachusetts General Hospital and of the New England Journal of Medicine, as well as the third president of the American Medical Association.

Catalog Record: John Collins Warren Portrait

Title: [Oil on canvas portrait of John Collins Warren] / by Augusta Dudley.

Access Key: alaa

Author Dudley, Augusta.
Author Alexander, Francis, 1800-1880.

Publisher 1878.

Physical Descri: 1 oil painting on canvas : color ; 61.5 x 51 x 3 cm.

Subject: Warren, John Collins, 1778-1856.
Form/Genre: Oil paintings.
Form/Genre: Portraits.

Title Variation Alt Title
Title: John Collins Warren, M.D. (1778-1856).

Note type: General
Notes: Title constructed by cataloger based on description provided by the seller:
“An oil on canvas portrait of John Collins Warren, M.D. (1778-1856), the
famed American surgeon and pioneer in the use of anesthesia. … “.

Note type: General
Notes: Oil painting on canvas. Canvas on frame. Painting in good condition.

Note type: General
Notes: Accession number: 2014-02-14-1

Note type: General
Notes: Placed in a flat archival box for storage.

Note type: Abstract
Notes: An oil on canvas portrait of the surgeon John Collins Warren. His upper
torso faces toward his left (the viewer’s right) and his head is turned
toward the front. His hair is light brown with hints of grey, and he has a
slight smile.

Note type: Biographical
Notes: On October 16, 1846, American surgeon John Collins Warren (1778-1856) gave
dentist William T.G. Morton (1819-1868) the opportunity to administer an
unidentified vapor to a patient during an operation on the neck. Morton
claimed that the vapor would render the patient insensible to pain, but
Warren was hardly assured of the outcome. Morton would not disclose the
contents of his preparation even though the active ingredient was the
well-known drug, “sulphuric ether.” Administering a compound of unknown
composition violated medical ethics. If the secret drug contained something
harmful and the patient suffered because of it, Dr. Warren would be
responsible. Additionally, he risked his reputation, as at least some in the
medical profession were bound to believe that he had fallen for quackery.

Dr. Warren balanced these concerns against the potential for benefit. What
if Morton actually did discover a medicine that could end the brutal agony
of surgery? Not another person would have to bear the horrors of amputation
or mastectomy while conscious. In deciding that a demonstration was worth
the risks, Dr. Warren ushered in a new age in the history of medicine.

October 16, 1846 is now known as “Ether Day,” and is recognized annually by
anesthesiologists all over the world.

Dr. Warren was a surgeon from a prominent Boston family. He was the dean of
Harvard Medical School, and helped to found the Massachusetts General
Hospital. He authored a number of books on medicine and surgery, including a
summary of more than 200 surgeries performed with ether anesthesia titled,
“Etherization, with Surgical Remarks” (1848).