WellesleyWeston Magazine

SUMMER 2016

Launched in 2005, WellesleyWeston Magazine is a quarterly publication tailored to Wellesley and Weston residents and edited to enrich the experience of living in two of Massachusetts' most desirable communities.

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The surgery was performed by the light of the sun filtering down through the dome designed by Charles Bulfinch. Although none of the participants was alive to offer Hinckley a first-hand account of the proceedings, he tried to capture the flavor of that historic moment, starting with the extraordinary fact that the doctors and surgeons in the operating theater, including Morton and Bigelow, were dressed in velvet-trimmed frock coats, wing-collared shirts, and ascots. None wore gloves or masks, and no protective bar- rier segregated the gallery of viewers from the surgical field. A reporter was even allowed to be present on the floor, standing on a chair for a better view. The only nod to sanitation was a white cloth casually draped on a table, where a few surgical instruments rested. The patient, Gilbert Abbott, was seated upright in an armchair, his only comfort a pillow supporting his head. The surgery was performed by the light of the sun filtering down through the dome designed by Charles Bulfinch. Hinckley used the sunlight, the diagonal handrail of the gallery, and the stark white shade of the pillow and Abbott's shirt as effective artistic devices. All served to direct the viewer's attention to the central figure of the painting — the patient — and to the significant ele- ment of the day's proceedings — the fact that the patient had been successfully rendered insensible. Hinckley's use of a palette of browns, tans, and olive tones lent a warmth and quaintness to the work, consistent with its nineteenth century setting. First Operation Under Ether was indeed an imposing mural at 8 x 9½ feet; yet it languished unappreciated and without a buyer during Hinckley's lifetime. Only in 1946, when it was displayed at MGH for the 100th anniversary of Ether Day, did its popularity soar. Eventually, the painting found its way to the lobby of Harvard Medical School's Countway Library, where it still holds court today. Generations of students, doctors, and visitors — drawn by the canvas's epic size and theme — have ren- dered it one of the world's most recogniza- ble medical works of art. Like Morton, however, the painter himself (and his creation) was soon awash in controversy. Critics pointed out that not all of the figures depicted had actually been present on Ether Day. They suggested that Hinckley had knowingly inserted prominent physi- cians, despite being aware of their Dr. William T. G. Morton above: The Ether Dome operating theater, Bulfinch Building, Massachusetts General Hospital; 74 W e l l e s l e y W e s t o n M a g a z i n e | s u m m e r 2 0 1 6 P H O T O S B Y D I A N E S P E A R E T R I A N T

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