Portrait of Doctor John Collins Warren (After Gilbert Stuart)

JAMES FROTHINGHAM (1786-1864) Biography

Portrait of Doctor John Collins Warren (After Gilbert Stuart) (USA, 1846 - 1847)

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Oil on canvas


81.00cm high
65.00cm wide
(31.89 inches high)
(25.59 inches wide)
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By descent in the family of the sitter; to 1998


George C. Mason, The Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons 1897, page 275 as: owned by the sitter's son Dr. John Collins Warren
Charles Merrill Mount, Gilbert Stuart, A Biography, New York 1964, page 376. Portrait of Dr. John Collins Warren by Gilbert Stuart, oil on canvas, 32 x 26 inches, owned by Dr. Richard Warren

Description / Expertise

John Collins Warren was one of the most renowned American surgeons of the nineteenth century. Born into a distinguished family of Boston surgeons, he was the eldest son of Dr. John Warren and his wife Abigail Collins, who was the daughter of John Collins, Governor of Rhode Island. He studied at Boston’s Public Latin School and, after graduating in 1797 from Harvard College, entered his father’s office as an apprentice in medicine.

In June 1799, he left America to study medicine under Astley Cooper at Guy’s Hospital in London and later continued his studies in Edinburgh and Paris. After his return to Boston in December 1802, he entered into partnership with his father. He was one of the original members of the Anthology Club and in 1815, on the death of his father, he became a Professor. In 1819, Harvard awarded him the honorary degree of M. D.

Together with James Jackson, he revolutionised medical education and practice in Boston and was responsible for moving the Harvard Medical School from Cambridge to Boston. Along with James Jackson he led the campaign to inaugurate the Massachusetts General Hospital, which was intended to care for the poor. He also organised the first independent library of medical literature in Boston.

Although he did not discover chemically mediated surgical anaesthesia, he was the first person to adopt the practice in America of operating under ether. His prominence as a Boston surgeon and the timely publication of his success with ether, Inhalation of Etheral Vapor for the Prevention of Pain in Surgical Operations, did hasten its acceptance. In 1837, he published his most eminent book, Surgical Observations on Tumours with Cases and Operations.

Gilbert Stuart, the ‘Father of American Portraiture’ who had settled in Boston in 1805, painted Doctor Warren’s portrait in 1812, a year after Warren and Jackson began their project for the Massachusetts General Hospital. The second version, by Stuart’s official copyist, James Frothingham, can be dated by the canvas maker’s stamp on the reverse, which reads: Prepared by O. Stearns, 91 Washington St. Boston. O. Stearns was, according to the American Artists’ Materials Suppliers Directory(1), working at this address between 1846-7. 1847 was a key date in both the history of the Harvard Medical School and in Doctor Warren’s career. He became Professor Emeritus of the Harvard Medical School, and the school moved that year to North Grove Street, next door to the Bulfinch Building of the Massachusetts General Hospital. It seems most likely that he commissioned the Frothingham copy to mark these occasions.

Around 1860, the Gilbert Stuart portrait was engraved by S. A. Schoff and was published as the frontispiece to the first volume of Edward Warren’s The Life of John Collins Warren, M.D. (Ticknor and Fields, Boston 1860).

James Frothingham, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was a pupil of Gilbert Stuart and became a successful portrait painter in his own right. He was elected a member of the New York National Academy (NA) and later took up residence in the city.

1. According to Norman E. Müller’s Checklist of Boston Retailers in Artist’s Materials. 1823-1887, published in Alexander Katlan, American Artists’ Materials Suppliers Directory, Park Ridge N.J., Noyes Press 1987, page 454.