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December 23rd, 2004
Museum to Present an Exhibition Exploring Images of Quacks and Quackery

From March 19 through June 26, 2005, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present a lively exhibition tracing the history of the colorful purveyors of patent and quack medicines over the past four centuries. Quack, Quack, Quack: The Sellers of Nostrums in Prints, Posters, Ephemera & Books contains 75 works ranging from humorous caricatures of itinerant quacks, flamboyant advertising posters, and promotional pamphlets for rival panaceas (each supported by extravagant claims of efficacy), to prints that document the first governmental attempts to curtail the more flagrant abuses.

"The quack has long been a popular and profitable subject for artists in Europe and the United States," said John Ittmann, Curator of Prints at the Museum. "This exhibition delves into the relationship between the bearers of this disparaging term and the artists who captured their theatrics and even helped advertise their wares. And though legislation has been enacted to eradicate the practice of quackery, the proliferation of Internet spam and advertisements of that ilk make this a rather timely exhibition."

The exhibition includes works by such well-known artists as Jacques Callot, William Hogarth, Honoré Daumier, and Maxfield Parrish, and Jules Chéret, and some highly spirited works created by less familiar figures. These range from a 17th- century Dutch engraving, Hyacum et Lues Venera, showing a purported new cure for syphilis to Medical Confessions of Medical Murder (c. 1840), a 12-scene wood engraving in which James Morison, a clever marketer of pills, even includes a testimonial from William Shakespeare. The Health Jolting Chair, an 1885 color lithograph of a seated woman, demonstrates the ability of electricity to provide the "most highly prized Feminine Attractions"; Nancy Linton, a hand-colored lithograph of the same era, illustrates the dubious benefits of taking Swaim’s Panacea; and The Travelling Quack, an 1889 political satire, assails British Prime Minister William Gladstone for promoting an "Infallible Home Rule Ointment."

The exhibition is organized by William H. Helfand, a noted specialist and collector in the field of Ars Medica, with John Ittmann. This is the fifth in an on-going series of topical Ars Medica exhibitions prepared for the Museum by Mr. Helfand, who has written and lectured extensively on the history of drugs and pharmacy in prints, caricatures, posters, and ephemera. He brings his customary scholarship and lively sense of humor to this exhibition.

Quack, Quack, Quack: The Sellers of Nostrums in Prints, Posters, Ephemera & Books, the publication by William Helfand that accompanies the exhibition, is published by the Grolier Club (2002). It is designed by the Winterhouse Studio, and printed at the Studley Press. The books is available in the Museum Store or by calling (800) 329-4856 or via the Museum’s website at

Housing some 150,000 works of art, the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is nationally recognized for the breadth and depth of its collections as well as the flair and scholarship of its exhibitions. The Department presents rotating installations of its vast holdings in the Berman and Stieglitz Galleries and the Julien Levy Gallery on the Museum’s ground floor and the Eglin Gallery on the first floor. Individual works are also on view in the Museum’s permanent collection galleries.

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