My favourite painting: Clare Marx

'For me, it brings into focus the importance of physical contact in the doctor-patient relationship...'

Science and Charity, 1897, by Picasso (1881–1973), 78in by 98in, Museu Picasso, Barcelona, Spain.

Clare Marx says:
Early in my marriage, we went to Barcelona for the weekend. We wandered the sun-drenched streets and eventually entered the cool of the Picasso museum. There, to my surprise, I saw this extraordinary painting. For me, it brings into focus the importance of physical contact in the doctor-patient relationship—the simple act of feeling a pulse gives human contact that patients understand and accept and from which they can derive reassurance and comfort. For clinicians, this single act gives vital information all at the touch of a hand. In this moment of quiet, there is time to observe patient and circumstance, think and diagnose. Picasso captured it brilliantly.

Clare Marx is President of the Royal College of Surgeons.

John McEwen comments on Science and Charity:
John Richardson, Picasso’s biographer, has dismissed the child-prodigy legends, the most famous of which details Picasso’s father—an art teacher who specialised in pigeon pictures—handing over his brushes to the boy Picasso saying he would never paint again, having seen him dramatically improve one of his pictures.

Picasso was certainly gifted enough for his father to place all his worldly hopes in his artistic success, but it was achieved through energy, ambition and hard work as much as natural talent. The boy was also mature beyond his years; when he entered art school in Barcelona, having just turned 15, he took Rosita del Oro, six years his senior and star of an equestrian circus, for his first mistress.

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Picasso’s father, Jose, was a man of leisure without the means, who didn’t marry until he was 42 and continued to depend on the generosity and contacts of his industrious brothers, especially Salvador, a pious and much-respected doctor. Art-teaching posts took the family from sleepy southern Málaga, via Corunna, to bustling Barcelona, capital of Catalonia and the industrial north, where they arrived in 1895.

Picasso loved Barcelona and considered it his ‘birthplace’. To please his father, who found him a studio and gave him a large stretched canvas as a house-warming present, he painted Science and Charity. The subject honoured devout uncle Salvador, although the model was his father and he couldn’t bring himself to paint the customary crucifix over the bed. His father gave the picture its grand title and entered it for a national exhibition in Madrid, where it was officially commended, and in Málaga, where it won a gold medal.


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