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The first use of ether in dental surgery, 1846. Oil painting by Ernest Board.

  • Board, Ernest, 1877-1934.
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view The first use of ether in dental surgery, 1846. Oil painting by Ernest Board.


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Credit: The first use of ether in dental surgery, 1846. Oil painting by Ernest Board. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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About this work


The painting shows the first use of ether as an anaesthetic in dental surgery by the dental surgeon W.T.G. Morton, in Boston, Massachusetts, on 30 September 1846. The patient was Eben H. Frost, who made and signed the following statement: "I applied to Dr Morton at 9 o'clock this evening, suffering under the most violent toothache; that Dr Morton took out his pocket-handkerchief, saturated it with a preparation of his, from which I breathed about half a minute, and then was lost in sleep. In an instant more I awoke, and saw my tooth lying upon the floor. I did not experience the slightest pain whatever. I remained twenty minutes in his office afterward, and felt no unpleasant effects from the operation." (Duncum, loc. cit.)

A tumbler of liquid ether is shown in the foreground. Above, a gas light; right, a man shown in profil perdu. Two other men are shown as spectators in the left background, possibly representing the spectators at Massachusetts General Hospital that Morton took part in, with J.C. Warren and others, on 16 October 1846



Physical description

1 painting : oil on canvas ; canvas 61.5 x 91 cm

Creator/production credits

Commissioned by Henry S. Wellcome for display in his historical collection

References note

Barbara Duncum, The development of inhalation anaesthesia, London 1994, p. 105 (on Morton)
Pijn, la douleur, pain: Museum Dr Guislain, Gent 2005, pp. 154-155 (reproduced)
Robert E. Greenspan, Medicine: perspectives in history and art, Alexandria, Va.: Ponteverde Press, 2006, p. 479 (reproduced)


Wellcome Library no. 45904i

Exhibitions note

Exhibited in “The Brain in Art & Science” at Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn, Germany, 28 January – 28 June 2022

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