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Dr. Washington Epps, My Doctor

Lawrence Alma-Tadema (British, 1836–1912)


Medium oil on canvas Measurements H: 25 x W: 20 in. (63.5 x 50.8 cm) Credit Heinz Family Fund Accession Number 2002.63.1 Location Gallery 6, Scaife Galleries


In this portrait, Dr. Epps is shown taking the pulse of a patient, counting heartbeats with an intense concentration that suggests dedication to his profession. The eccentric image places the sitter off center and cuts off the patient's head, reducing her to a still-life accessory. A masterful arrangement of lights and darks gives the composition its balance and visual impact. The darks, especially, are freely brushed, overlaid with a few strokes to define particular details, while the white area of the bed linen has been worked into an abstract play of folds and creases. The result is an effect of almost photographic realism and detail, achieved with surprising simplicity and speed. Washington Epps was the artist's brother-in-law. The intimacy of the scene is typical of Alma Tadema's rare portraits, which usually represent family or close friends. A mainstay of the conservative Victorian art world, Alma Tadema is best known for elaborate "toga pictures" of life in ancient Rome.