Frank H. Netter

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Frank H. Netter
Born 25 April 1906
New York, NY, USA
Died 17 September 1991
Education New York University School of Medicine
Known for Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy
Medical career
Profession Physician (Surgeon)
Specialism Medical illustrator

Frank H. Netter (25 April 1906 – 17 September 1991) was an American surgeon and celebrated medical illustrator. The first edition of his Atlas of Human Anatomy — his "personal Sistine Chapel"[this quote needs a citation] — was published in 1989; he was a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine where he was first published in 1957.[1]


Early life, training, and medical career

Frank Henry Netter was born in Manhattan at 53rd Street and Seventh Avenue, and grew up wanting to be an artist. In high school, he obtained a scholarship to study at the National Academy of Design, doing so at night while continuing high school. After further studying at the Art Students League of New York and with private teachers, he began a commercial art career, quickly achieving success and doing work for the Saturday Evening Post and The New York Times. However, his family disapproved of a career as an artist and he agreed to study medicine. After getting a degree at the City College of New York, he completed medical school at New York University and a surgical internship at Bellevue Hospital and attempted to begin practicing medicine. However, as Netter put it: "This was in 1933—the depths of the Depression—and there was no such thing as medical practice. If a patient ever wandered into your office by mistake, he didn't pay."[this quote needs a citation]

Early medical art career

Having continued doing freelance art during his medical training, including some work for his professors, he fell back on medical art to supplement his income. In particular, pharmaceutical companies began seeking Netter for illustrations to help sell new products, such as Novocain. Soon after a misunderstanding wherein Netter asked for $1,500 for a series of 5 pictures and an advertising manager agreed to and paid $1,500 each - $7,500 for the series - Netter gave up the practice of medicine.

Career with CIBA

In 1936, the CIBA Pharmaceutical Company commissioned a small work from him, 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.

Quickly following on the success of the fold-up heart, fold-up versions of other organs were produced. Netter then proposed that a series of pathology illustrations be produced. These illustrations were distributed to physicians as cards in a folder, with advertising for CIBA products on the inside of the folder, and were also popular with physicians. CIBA then collected these illustrations in book form, producing the CIBA Collection of Medical Illustrations, which ultimately comprised 8 volumes (13 books).

Beginning in 1948, CIBA also re-used illustrations by Netter in another series of materials to be given to physicians, the Clinical Symposia series. These were small magazine-like brochures that typically featured an extensive article on a medical condition, commonly with about a dozen of Netter's illustrations. This series was produced until at least the early 1990s. In 1989, Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy was published, assembled from his previous paintings and correlated by updated diagrams.

CIBA's Medical Education Department (East Orange, NJ) filtered the paintings for printing, in an effort that The Big Green Books "might appear more 'even' over time."[this quote needs a citation] This sometimes resulted in a considerable reduction of color variation from the truly-unique originals. Digital re-scanning of the originals continue to be published by the current copyright owner to the collection, Elsevier Medical Publishing. Selected original paintings have been showcased internationally.

Netter's career was presented in a commemorative video by Ciba-Geigy in 1988.


In all, Netter produced nearly 4,000 illustrations, which have been included in countless publications. In perspective, that number represents an image researched, sketched, and completely painted for every three business days for over 50 years.

The vast bulk of Netter's illustrations were produced for and owned by CIBA Pharmaceutical Company and its successor, CIBA-Geigy, which has since merged with Sandoz Laboratories to become Novartis. In June 2000, Novartis sold its interest in Netter's works to MediMedia USA's subsidiary Icon Learning Systems, which in turn has sold the portfolio to Elsevier, which continues to make his work available in various formats. His Atlas of Human Anatomy and other atlases have become a staple of medical education.

Dr. Netter's contribution to the study of human anatomy is epochal. He has advanced our understanding of anatomy more than any other medical illustrator since the 16th century, when Vesalius introduced drawings based on cadaveric dissections.

— Dr. Michael DeBakey

The Frank H. Netter M.D. School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University in North Haven, Connecticut opened its doors in 2013.

Awards and honors


  1. "Special Collections Malloch Room Newsletter 2" (PDF), New York Academy of Medicine, retrieved 2014-03-01<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Netter Medical Trial Exhibits. The Netter Story". Fort Lauderdale, FL: The Graphic Witness. Retrieved 25 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dr. Frank H. Netter (January 1981), "Frank Netter: The Man, The Artist, The Surgeon", Medical Times<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (condensed reprint from The Saturday Evening Post, 1976)
  • The Five Senses, CIBA-Geigy Corporation, 1992, ASIN B00A17MKVE<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (memorial portfolio and essays)
  • Netter, Francine Mary (his daughter) (2013). Medicine's Michelangelo: The Life & Art of Frank H. Netter, MD. Quinnipiac University Press. ISBN 0989137600.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

  • "Frank H. Netter, MD", Netter Digital Images, Elsevier, retrieved 2013-01-12<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> - Short biographical article by the current publisher and copyright-owner
  • "Netter", US Elsevier Health Bookshop, retrieved 2013-01-12<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> - Via NYAM
  • Netter Images, retrieved 2013-01-12<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> - The official Facebook page of the Netter Team at Reed Elsevier