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ExhibitionThe Art of Nursing

Popular art during the 19th century favored a sentimental use of nursing archetypes such as the “angel” or “mother.” On Valentine and “get well” cards, the use of word play and innuendo often revealed an undercurrent of sexual fantasy. As the 20th century progressed, advertising images of nurses frequently featured increasingly saucy, sexualized representations of women.

Since the 1980s, nurses have become far more aware of their public image and they are keen to update the archetypes that have dominated in the past. Nursing is skilled work and nurses are expert members of the modern health care team. Contemporary publicity and promotional materials include more accurate representations of nurses and nursing.

  • Two White male doctors and two White female nurses in the middle of an operation.

    Operating team, 1951

    Produced by US Army Nurse Corps

    After World War II, nursing organizations showed a more accurate picture of their profession, like this image from a commemorative series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Army Nurse Corps. Their mission statement declares in part, “All actions and tasks must lead and work toward promoting the wellness of Warriors and their families…”

  • A White female nurse anesthetist talking to a White boy sitting on an operating table.

    Nurse anesthetist, 1951

    Produced by US Army Nurse Corps

  • White female nurse treating a White female eye patient, lying in bed.

    A nurse with an eye patient, 1951

    Produced by US Army Nurse Corps

  • A White female nurse leaning her head on a White male soldier's shoulder.

    Comrades in arms, ca. 1915

    Produced by Bassano Ltd., England

    Postcards illustrating romance themes featuring soldiers were common until the end of World War I.