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The Most Famous Nurses In Art History
Because nurses are superheroes
Arty-Pedia 16 Apr 2020

While we are all at home complaining about being unable to go to our favourite museums and galleries, doctors and nurses are busy tending to patients across the world affected by coronavirus. Modern day superheroes, nurses don’t get enough credit for the hard work they do. So, we thought we’d run through a look at the way the nurse has been depicted throughout art history.

Takeuchi Keishu, Nurse, 1887


This nurse from Meiji Era Japan shows a Western influence on Japanese culture. Watering flowers in front of a painting of a boat at sea, the print shows an openness to new cultures. The Japanese Red Cross was formed in 1887.

Henrietta Rae, The Lady With The Lamp, 1891

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~ The Lady with the Lamp, Florance Nightingale ~ . Florence Nightingale, byname Lady with the Lamp (1820—1910) was a British nurse, a statistician, and a social reformer who was the foundational philosopher of modern nursing. . Nightingale was put in charge of nursing British and allied soldiers in Turkey during the Crimean War. She spent many hours in the wards, and her night rounds giving personal care to the wounded established her image as the “Lady with the Lamp.” . Her efforts to formalize nursing education led her to establish the first scientifically based nursing school—the Nightingale School of Nursing, at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London (opened 1860). She also was instrumental in setting up training for midwives and nurses in workhouse infirmaries. She was the first woman awarded the Order of Merit (1907). International Nurses Day, observed annually on May 12, commemorates her birth and celebrates the important role of nurses in health care. Painting : The Lady with the Lamp, by Henrietta Rae 🎨 #florencenightingale #ladywiththelamp #nurse #history #art #artlovers #painting #artist #henriettarae #strongwomen #womenfromhistory

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Perhaps the most famous nurse of all time, Florence Nightingale was also known as the lady with the lamp, as she attended wounded soldiers by candlelight. The British nurse formalised modern nursing education, and she established the first scientifically based nursing school in London in 1860. In fact, International Nurses Day falls on May 12, her birthday.


Image via Wikimedia Commons

Gabriel Nicolet’s painting of a Red Cross nurse is the archetypal depiction of care and femininity. With flushed cheeks, and tending to her knitting, she looks like she would be able to provide the comfort we crave in times of need.

William Edmondson, Nurse, 1940


This limestone nurse was made by William Edmondson, the first African American artist to receive a solo exhibition at MoMA in New York. He started making art in his 50s after divine inspiration caused him to start sculpting limestone using a railroad spike as a chisel.


Lev Kotlyarov, Nurses Rest After Duty, 1956


These soviet nurses look as though they’re having a rest after a hard day tending to the sick. We can really sense the sisterhood between them as they lie on top of one another in the sun’s heat.

Robert Maguire, Nurse In The Tropics, 1971


This beautiful nurse is somewhere we’d all rather be right now. Far away from any hospital, she embodies the highly sexualised nurse that appears in many fantasies.

Eleanor Antin, The Adventures Of A Nurse, 1976

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Adventures of a Nurse, 1976 #EleanorAntin

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Eleanor Antin takes on the role of the nurse in this performative piece from the 1970s. Within the film Antin plays with cut-out men, calling into question our ideas about femininity, sexuality, desires and gender roles.

Richard Prince, Nurse series, 2003


Perhaps the most iconic images of nurses in modern art history were made by Richard Prince in the early 2000s. His highly sexualised masked nurses were inspired by the covers of pulp romance novels, from which their names – “millionaire nurse”, “school nurse”, “aloha nurse” were taken. One of the paintings was subsequently used by Sonic Youth on the cover of their 2004 Sonic Nurse album. Later in 2007, Louis Vuitton took inspiration from the images for their SS08 collection, where models including Naomi Campbell strutted the runway in nurse uniforms and masks.

Walter Robinson, Nurse and Surgeon, 2019


Reminding us that nurses can give care AND be sexy, Walter Robinson’s paintings of nurses in surgery show us just how important nurses are.

Sami Basbous, Nurse, 2020


Commissioned for the Order of Nurses in Lebanon on Mother’s Day, Sami Basbous’s smiling nurse shows a nurturing side against a calm blue backdrop.

Text Lizzy Vartanian

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