Frank Netter, 1906 – 1991

Anatomy of the Axilla

Created for the Ciba Collection of Medical Illustrations. Volume 8: Musculoskeletal System, Part 1: Anatomy, Physiology, and Metabolic Disorders. Watercolor and gouache. Netter illustration and photo from© Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Although Frank Netter was not a lifelong AMI member, he was a friend to the Association and his many contributions to the field earned him the 1986 AMI Lifetime Achievement Award and later, a Special Recognition in 1990. The Vesalius Trust honors him with a Frank H. Netter Award in his name to recognize those who have recently developed visually oriented educational materials with either proven or potential impact on how health sciences are taught and practiced. His work was the reason many medical illustrators learned about the field.

Frank studied art at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League of New York. He became a successful commercial artist but gave up his career to go to medical school. He earned his medical degree at the New York University School of Medicine, followed by an internship at Bellevue Hospital.

In 1936, CIBA Pharmaceutical Company commissioned Frank to develop a popular fold-up heart illustration, and other organ systems to follow. Soon after, Frank proposed that a series of pathology illustrations be produced and distributed to physicians, which were ultimately collected in book form: the CIBA Collection of Medical Illustrations, which were to comprise 13 books in 8 volumes.

Frank Netter produced nearly 4,000 illustrations, which continue to educate medical professionals and provide essential reference material for medical illustrators everywhere. The CIBA Illustrations are currently owned by Elsevier Medical Publishing.

“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