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This lively exhibition traces the history of the colorful purveyors of patent and quack medicines over the past four centuries. It contains seventy-five 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. The exhibition includes works by such well-known artists as Jacques Callot, William Hogarth, Honoré Daumier, Maxfield Parrish, and Jules Chéret, and some highly spirited works created by less familiar figures. These range from an early seventeenth-century Dutch engraving, Operation for Stones in the Head, a sleight-of-hand cure for insanity, to Medical Confessions of Medical Murder, a twelve-scene print in which James Morison, a clever marketer of pills, uses quotations from prominent physicians taken out of context to impugn their practices. The Health Jolting Chair, an 1885 color lithograph of a seated woman, demonstrates the ability of electricity to secure 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."
This is the fourth in an ongoing 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.