February’s object of the month is Hugo Backmansson’s painting “12 Ophthalmologists” from the Galleria Academica portrait collection of the University of Helsinki. The piece hangs in the Emergency Outpatient Clinic for Eye Diseases. Located in the Meilahti medical campus, the clinic was originally affiliated with the University, but was transferred to the Helsinki University Central Hospital in 1958 and to the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS) in 2000. The Helsinki University Museum and the HUS Museum Committee performed an inventory on the historical collections of the clinic last year and divided the objects in the collection between them.
Completed in 1923, the painting, which is also known as “The meeting of ophthalmologists”, depicts a group of twelve ophthalmologists gathered around a green table. Some seem to be engaged in a lively discussion while others are lost in thought. Backmansson has rendered each character as a distinct personality without ignoring the group dynamics in the piece.
An older gentleman slightly turned to the left looks sombrely out of a painting. A high-collared, white shirt is peeking out from under the black coat. The medal of the Order of Saint Anna hanging on a red ribbon around his neck and the Cross of the Order of Saint Vladimir on his chest speak of the appreciation of the Emperor. His grey hair is combed back. The man immortalised on the canvas is Johan Agapetus Törngren (1772–1859). The Object of the Month is an instrument purse that used to belong to him.
This month, we will be discussing two objects made by students of medicine, a tea cosy and a wall hanging. Both come from the maternity ward of the Helsinki general hospital. The maternity ward provided practical training on childbirth to candidates of medicine from 1833 onwards. A dedicated hospital for childbirth and gynaecological treatment as well as the practical study of gynaecology didn’t exist in Finland until the establishment of the Naistenklinikka Women’s Hospital in 1934.