Picturing Care

Barbara Hepworth, Concourse 2 (1948), oil and pencil on pine panel, 67.5 x 90 cm. Courtesy of the Museums at the Royal College of Surgeons. Barbara Hepworth ©Bowness.

The subject of Barbara Hepworth’s painting Concourse 2 (1948) at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, reproduced in print in the book of her hospital drawings, is unmistakably a surgical operation.1 A group of ten people in gowns, caps and masks stand huddled together. There are none of the usual details that a surgical illustration or a television image would provide. Yet to me as a surgeon, Hepworth goes to the heart of what an operation is about. She shows us the invisible.

The essence of this painting is care—care for a vulnerable person anesthetized on the operating table. We do not see that person; we have no idea what kind of operation is taking place. There are no specifics, nothing to distract the eye. There is no surgical lamp, no anesthetic machine, no operating table, no details of instruments. Instead there are people.

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  1. Nathaniel Hepburn, Barbara Hepworth: The Hospital Drawings (London: Tate Publishing, 2013). []