A Tribute to the Medical Illustator Frank H. Netter

Posted by Don Manley on

Frank Netter was born in NYC in 1906. Netter had early artistic aspirations. He received a scholarship to study at the National Academy of Design and later attended the Art Students League of New York. By his late 20s Netter was a successful commercial artist with national exposure. However his family urged him to pursue a more stable and "respectable" profession. He relented and enrolled at New York University Medical College.


As a medical student, Netter produced elaborate illustrated notes during classes. The visual representations helped him recall and better comprehend his studies. While at medical school and after graduation Netter continued to pursue illustration in order to supplement his income. He completed a surgical internship at Bellevue Hospital and attempted to start a medical practice but as Netter put it: "This was in 1933–the depths of Depression–and there was no such thing as medical practice. If a patient ever wandered into your office by mistake, he didn't pay."

Netter quickly gained a reputation as a medical illustrator. His understanding of medicine, attention to detail and innate artistic abilities cemented Netters success. In the mid 1930s Netter was paid a whopping $7,500 for a series of 5 illustrations. The fee was actually a misunderstanding in Netter's favor. He originally asked for $1,500 for all 5 but an advertising manager understood the fee to be $1,500 per illustration and a final agreement was reached based on the higher number. Soon afterward Netter gave up medicine and pursued a full time career as a medical illustrator. Based on an online inflation calculator $7,500 is equivalent to approximately $125,000 in today's dollars.

Frank Netter died on September 17th, 1991 in NYC at the age of 85. In his professional career, Dr. Netter created over 4,000 medical illustrations, many of which became the center pieces of over 250 issues of Clinical Symposia and were compiled in the 13 volume set of The CIBA Collection of Medical Illustrations. Two years prior to his death, the Atlas of Human Anatomy was published, considered by many to be Dr. Netter's crowning achievement. The Atlas rapidly became the most widely used atlas of anatomy in American medical schools and currently is published in 16 languages. 

This video is from the 2010 Netter Exhibition the Morris Museum in New Jersey.


Click here to learn more about Netter's long career and life on netterimages. You can also learn more about Frank on wikipedia, click here.

Below are a few images from two of the first brochures Netter illustrated for CIBRA. The heart brochure has been sold but we still have a "LUNG" brochure availible. Click here to view.



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