Frank H. Netter, MD (1906 – 1991) was a surgeon and celebrated medical illustrator. The first edition of his award-winning Atlas of Human Anatomy, the most popular and best-selling anatomy atlas in the English language, was published in 1989 and is currently in its 7th Edition.
Dr. Netter not only grasped the most complex medical concepts, but he could create artwork that made those concepts clear to others. Beginning in the mid-20th century, his books of illustrations — 13 atlases and more than 200 pamphlets — educated doctors and health care professionals the world over.
Dr. Netter was born in Manhattan and grew up wanting to be an artist. As a young adult, he studied at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League of New York before beginning a commercial art career. He later completed medical school at New York University and a surgical internship at Bellevue Hospital. During the Great Depression, he relied on medical art to supplement his income. In 1936, the CIBA Pharmaceutical Company commissioned a small work: a fold-up illustration of a heart to promote the sale of digitalis. This proved hugely popular with physicians, and a reprint without the advertising copy was even more popular.
Fold-up versions of other organs were produced, and Dr. Netter then proposed a series of pathology illustrations. CIBA then collected these illustrations in book form, producing the multi-volume CIBA Collection of Medical Illustrations. In 1989, Dr. Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy was published, assembled from his previous paintings and correlated with updated diagrams.
In all, Dr. Netter produced nearly 4,000 illustrations which have been included in countless publications. His Atlas of Human Anatomy and other atlases have become a staple of medical education. The Frank H. Netter M.D. School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University in North Haven, Connecticut opened its doors in 2013.
Dr. Netter’s many awards and honors include distinguished service awards from the American Medical Writers Association, the national Kidney Foundation, and the American College of Cardiology; honorary doctorates from New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry and Georgetown University; Life Achievement Awards from the Society of Illustrators and the Association of Medical Illustrators; dedication of the Netter Library at CIBA-Geigy Corporation; and honorary awards and memberships from the Radiological Society of North America, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the American Association of Clinical Anatomists, and Medical Artists Association of Great Britain.