Henry Tonks
Henry Tonks, FRCS (9 April 1862 – 8 January 1937) was a British draughtsman and painter of figure subjects, chiefly interiors, and a caricaturist. He was an influential art teacher and a surgeon
In medicine, a surgeon is a specialist in surgery. Surgery is a broad category of invasive medical treatment that involves the cutting of a body, whether human or animal, for a specific reason such as the removal of diseased tissue or to repair a tear or breakage...


He was one of the first British artists to be influenced by the French Impressionists; he exhibited with the New English Art Club
New English Art Club
The New English Art Club was founded in London in 1885 as an alternate venue to the Royal Academy.-History:Young English artists returning from studying art in Paris mounted the first exhibition of the New English Art Club in April 1886...

, and was an associate of many of the more progressive artists of late Victorian Britain, including James McNeill Whistler
James McNeill Whistler
James Abbott McNeill Whistler was an American-born, British-based artist. Averse to sentimentality and moral allusion in painting, he was a leading proponent of the credo "art for art's sake". His famous signature for his paintings was in the shape of a stylized butterfly possessing a long stinger...

, Walter Sickert
Walter Sickert
Walter Richard Sickert , born in Munich, Germany, was a painter who was a member of the Camden Town Group in London. He was an important influence on distinctively British styles of avant-garde art in the 20th century....

, John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent was an American artist, considered the "leading portrait painter of his generation" for his evocations of Edwardian era luxury. During his career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings...

 and George Clausen
George Clausen
Sir George Clausen RA , was an artist working in oil and watercolour, etching, mezzotint, dry point and occasionally lithographs. He was knighted in 1927.-Biography:...


Life and work

Tonks was born in Birmingham. After being educated at Clifton College
Clifton College
Clifton College is a co-educational independent school in Clifton, Bristol, England, founded in 1862. In its early years it was notable for emphasising science in the curriculum, and for being less concerned with social elitism, e.g. by admitting day-boys on equal terms and providing a dedicated...

, he studied medicine at Brighton (1882–85) and London Hospital (1885–1888). After qualifying he became a doctor at the Royal Free Hospital in London; but from 1888 he studied under Frederick Brown
Frederick Brown (artist)
Frederick Brown was a British art teacher and painter.He was born in Chelmsford, Essex. From 1868 to 1877 he studied at the National Art Training School, London . He later studied at the Académie Julian, Paris. His work was influenced by Jules Bastien-Lepage...

 at Westminster School of Art
Westminster School of Art
The Westminster School of Art was an art school in Westminster, London. It was located at 18 Tufton Street, Deans Yard, Westminster, and was part of the old Architectural Museum.H. M. Bateman described it in 1903 as...

 in the evenings.

From 1892, he taught at the Slade School of Fine Art
Slade School of Fine Art
The Slade School of Fine Art is a world-renownedart school in London, United Kingdom, and a department of University College London...

, (from 1918 to 1930 as Slade Professor of Fine Art
Slade Professor of Fine Art
The Slade Professorship of Fine Art is the oldest professorship of art at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford and London.-History:The chairs were founded concurrently in 1869 by a bequest from the art collector and philanthropist Felix Slade, with studentships also created in the University of...

) where he became "the most renowned and formidable teacher of his generation". Pupils of Tonks at the Slade included William Lionel Clause
William Lionel Clause
William Lionel Clause was an English artist.-Early life:Born in Middleton, Lancashire, the son of William H. Clause and his wife Minna, Clause was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, and at the Slade School of Art, where he was taught by Professors Frederick Brown and Henry Tonks.He married Lucy...

, Ian Fairweather
Ian Fairweather
Ian Fairweather was an Australian painter. Fairweather was born in Scotland in 1891 and arrived in Melbourne in February 1934...

, Harold Gilman
Harold Gilman
The British artist Harold John Wilde Gilman was a painter of interiors, portraits and landscapes, and a founder-member of the Camden Town Group.-Early life and studies:...

, Spencer Gore
Spencer Gore (artist)
Spencer Frederick Gore was a British painter of landscapes, music-hall scenes and interiors, usually with single figures...

, Augustus John
Augustus John
Augustus Edwin John OM, RA, was a Welsh painter, draughtsman, and etcher. For a short time around 1910, he was an important exponent of Post-Impressionism in the United Kingdom....

, Mukul Dey
Mukul Dey
Mukul Chandra Dey was a student of Rabindranath Tagore's Santiniketan. He is considered as a pioneer of drypoint-etching in India....

, Gwen John
Gwen John
Gwendolen Mary John was a Welsh artist who worked in France for most of her career. She is noted for her still lifes and for her portraits, especially of anonymous female sitters...

, Percy Wyndham Lewis, Stanley Spencer
Stanley Spencer
Sir Stanley Spencer was an English painter. Much of his work depicts Biblical scenes, from miracles to Crucifixion, happening not in the Holy Land but in the small Thames-side village where he was born and spent most of his life...

, Rex Whistler
Rex Whistler
Reginald John 'Rex' Whistler was a British artist, designer and illustrator.-Biography:Rex Whistler was born in Eltham, Kent, the son of Henry and Helen Frances Mary Whistler...

, Mark Gertler, David Bomberg
David Bomberg
David Garshen Bomberg was an English painter, and one of the Whitechapel Boys.Bomberg was one of the most audacious of the exceptional generation of artists who studied at the Slade School of Art under Henry Tonks, and which included Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer, C.R.W. Nevinson and Dora Carrington...

, and Isaac Rosenberg
Isaac Rosenberg
Isaac Rosenberg was an English poet of the First World War who was considered to be one of the greatest of all English war poets...

. His sarcasm there drove F. M. Mayor
F. M. Mayor
Flora Macdonald Mayor , was an English novelist and short story writer who published under the name F. M...

's sister Alice to leave before completing her training. As a student Paul Nash, recalled Tonks’ withering manner:

"Tonks cared nothing for other authorities and he disliked self-satisfied young men….His surgical eye raked my immature designs. With hooded stare and sardonic mouth, he hung in the air above me, like a tall question mark, moreover… of a derisive, rather than an inquisitive order. In cold discouraging tones he welcomed me to the Slade. It was evident he considered that neither the Slade, nor I, was likely to derive much benefit."

In 1895, he became a member of the New English Art Club
New English Art Club
The New English Art Club was founded in London in 1885 as an alternate venue to the Royal Academy.-History:Young English artists returning from studying art in Paris mounted the first exhibition of the New English Art Club in April 1886...


As a qualified surgeon, from 1916 to 1918, Tonks worked for Harold Gillies
Harold Gillies
Sir Harold Delf Gillies was a New Zealand-born, and later London based, otolaryngologist who is widely considered as the father of plastic surgery.-Personal life:Gillies was born in Dunedin, New Zealand...

 producing pastel drawings recording facial injury cases at Aldershot and the Queen's Hospital, Sidcup, - a contribution recognised in the exhibitions "Faces of Battle" at the National Army Museum
National Army Museum
The National Army Museum is the British Army's central museum. It is located in the Chelsea district of central London, England adjacent to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the home of the "Chelsea Pensioners". The National Army Museum is open to the public every day of the year from 10.00am to 5.30pm,...

 in 2008 and "Henry Tonks: Art and Surgery" at the Strang Print Room in 2002. Tonks was an Official War Artist towards the end of the Great War and accompanied John Singer Sargent on tours of the western Front. In August 1918, they both witnessed a field of wounded men near Le Bac du Sud, Doullens, which became the basis for Sargent’s vast canvas, Gassed
Gassed (painting)
Gassed is a very large oil painting completed in March 1919 by John Singer Sargent. It depicts the aftermath of a mustard gas attack during the First World War, with a line of wounded soldiers walking towards a dressing station...

. In 1919, as an official War Artist Tonks went to Archangel in Russia.

A year before his death an exhibition of his work was held in London at the Tate Gallery.

Further reading

  • E. Chambers, Henry Tonks: art and surgery (2002)
  • New English Art Club, One hundred and fiftieth annual open exhibition, featuring a selection of work by Professor Henry Tonks ... from the Royal College of Surgeons and the Imperial War Museum (1997)
  • L. Morris (ed.), Henry Tonks and the 'art of pure drawing' (1985)
  • J. Rothenstein, 'Henry Tonks 1862-1937', in J. Rothenstein, Modern English Painters Sickert To Smith (1952)
  • J. Hone, The Life of Henry Tonks (1939)
  • Tate Gallery, Exhibition of Works by Professor Henry Tonks [exhibition catalogue] (1936), 7p.
  • Emma Chambers, "Fragmented Identities: Reading Subjectivity in Henry Tonks' Surgical Portraits," Art History, 32,3 (2009), 578-607.

External links

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