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    Dickie Orpen and the visual culture of World War II plastic surgery in Britain

    Slobogin, Christine (2021) Dickie Orpen and the visual culture of World War II plastic surgery in Britain. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    Abstract

    Diana ‘Dickie’ Orpen (1914-2008) was a surgical artist who worked during World War II in the plastic surgery ward at Hill End Hospital in St Albans, England. There has never been an in-depth study of Orpen’s hundreds of drawings, diagrams, sketchbooks, and cartoons, many of which focus on the devastating facial injuries being repaired around her. Until now, mentions of Orpen’s surgical career appear mostly in relation to her father, the famous portraitist William Orpen; her tutor, the Slade School of Fine Art Professor Henry Tonks; or one of the surgeons with whom she worked. This thesis—a feminist project at the intersection of art history, medical humanities, and cultural history—gives due attention to a woman who, through draughtsmanship, penetrated and represented the high-pressure, emotional, male-dominated space of a British wartime reconstructive surgery ward. Demonstrating her importance within the histories of art and medicine, the chapters in this thesis analyse Orpen’s work through four separate but interdependent methodologies: a biographical study, a trauma studies approach to her archive, a history of emotions lens, and a cultural history of her visual humour. Chapter One reconstructs Orpen’s life and background, disclosing, among other revelations, what led her to surgical illustration. Chapter Two explores how the lacunae and omissions of the archive that holds much of Orpen’s work suggest the psychological effects of facial injury and repair. Chapter Three compares Orpen’s drawings with Percy Hennell’s clinical photographs to examine the role of empathy in images of injury, plastic surgery, and healing. The contrasting, perhaps unexpected, emotion of mirth provides the scaffolding for Chapter Four, which considers Orpen’s many cartoons and asides in order to define the role of humour within the World War II plastics ward. Throughout this thesis, Orpen’s relevance and limitations are couched in analyses of artists who influenced her or who worked in similar contexts. This project is therefore not justa ‘rediscovery’ of a forgotten woman artist; it is an explication of the medico-artistic contexts of a particular cultural milieu, and it is an examination of the theoretical complexities that are inherent in works like Orpen’s that exist at the difficult juncture of art and surgery.

    Metadata

    Item Type: Thesis
    Additional Information: 2 Volumes: Volume 1: Text, Volume 2: Images
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 06 Sep 2021 14:26
    Last Modified: 08 Sep 2021 07:38
    URI: https://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/45854

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