Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

In the Operating Theatre

Resource created by Leeds Museums and Galleries | Leeds Art Gallery.

This resource is part of the Museum Snapshot collection - a collection of smaller resources perfect for starters, plenaries or spare moments to explore something fascinating

The drawing pictures a medical operation, showing three people carrying out an old-style surgical procedure on a patient. It feels as if we are in the room with them. Perhaps we are looking through the artist's eyes, Barbara Hepworth was unusually allowed to watch a number of operations because of her friendship with a surgeon. Look closely, what has the artist chosen to draw our attention to?


Drawing in tones of blue and white on buff coloured paper. It shows the masked faces of three medics operating on a patient's ear
Fenestration of the Ear, by Barbara Hepworth

The nurse is at the top, the doctors at the bottom edges and the working hands in the middle. You can see a lamp, medical tools, face masks, covered heads, and the eyes of the medical team. The nurse is preparing sutures, medical stitches, which will be used to join two sides of a wound together so that it will heal in the best way possible.

 The date of the drawing coincides with the founding of the NHS. It tells us that in 1948 certain things were important in the medical world - covering hair, clothes and the lower face, and working in a team. It is interesting to ask is this different to Florence Nightingale's time, and in ours?


Activity Idea

  • Learn how to make an arm sling. Then use fabric and what you have found out to turn your body into a living sculpture. See Supporting Links for helpful external sites.