Dorothy Davison Sketches

  • Reference
      GB 133 DDS
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      52 items 0.6. li.m Generally good condition.
  • Location
      Collection available at University Archive and Records Centre, Main University Library.

Scope and Content

The sketches collections comprises the preliminary artistic work by Dorothy Davison in connection with various surgical cases. These drawings were primarily compiled for the surgeons David Lloyd Griffiths, Harry Platt, and Geoffrey Jefferson.

Where possible these drawings have been associated with the completed medical illustrations for the case (Davison Medical Illustrations VFA/7).

Administrative / Biographical History

Dorothy Davison was born in 1890 but unfortunately little is known about her early life. At about the age of 18 Davison enrolled at the Manchester School of Art but her training here was often interrupted and she eventually left without any formal qualifications in order to care her aged and ailing parents. Around 1917 she was able to take a job at the Manchester Museum where she pursued her interest in prehistory and taught Egyptology to children. Her interest in the prehistoric world continued throughout her career and between 1926 and 1951 she published 4 works on the subject.

It was during her time at the Museum that she was introduced to Sir Grafton Elliot Smith (1871-1937), then Professor of Anatomy at the University of Manchester and also a renowned Egyptologist. Smith recognised Davison's artistic skill and invited her to produce some anatomical drawings for him and subsequently encouraged her to pursue work as a medical artist. By 1919 Davison was working alongside Smith's successor Sir John Stopford (1888-1961) and in the 1920s was introduced to Sir Geoffrey Jefferson (1886-1961) with whom she would develop a strong working relationship following his appointment as Honorary Neurological Surgeon in 1926. She created illustrations for a great number of individuals some of the most notable being Professor George Mitchell (1906-1993) and Sir Harry Platt (1895-1972).

The University of Manchester took steps to offer Davison a formal contract as a medical artist in 1939 but the sudden onset of World War Two meant that this was postponed until 1945. Whilst she may have continued to produce some medical artwork during these years there was little work available owing to the changing priorities of many of the medical staff. Instead she spent most of the war years working for the University's Geography Department, both drawing and cataloguing maps.

Throughout her career Davison stressed the importance and value of medical art emphasising the ability of the artist to draw out the obscure and clarify the hard to understand whilst photographs merely copy and demonstrate the obvious. In 1948 she instigated and led efforts to establish the Medical Artists' Association of Great Britain after seeking support from other well-known medical artists including Audrey J. Arnott (1901-1974) and Margaret McLarty (1908-1996). The Association held its first meeting in Oxford on 2 April 1949 and continues to support medical artists today. From the early 1940s onwards Davison was responsible for training a great number of young medical artists in Manchester, some of whose work is present in this collection.

Davison was adept in using a range of techniques but is perhaps most well-known for her use of the ross board technique. The technique was developed by Max Brödel (1870-1941), an artist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and introduced to artists in the UK after London-based Audrey Arnott visited Brödel in 1932 and shared what she had learned on her return. Subsequently Davison was one of the first in the UK to employ the technique and explained why she favoured it thus: "it gives texture better than any other medium, fine lines can be scratched out to show the dead white of the chalk-faced paper and gradations of tone can be obtained quickly" (Perry, 1971). These intricate drawings could take many hours to produce with larger drawings taking even longer.

Davison retired from her role at the University of Manchester in 1957 but continued to play a prominent role within the Medical Artists' Association. She died in 1984.


Arranged into four series:

  • DDS/1 - Griffiths file
  • DDS/2 - Platt files
  • DDS/3 - Jefferson & Neurosurgery files
  • DDS/4 - Miscellaneous items

Access Information

Access conditions apply to a number of items in this collection. The access policy is that any item which contains medical information relating to an individual who is less than 100 years old, the item will not be open for public access; in cases, where the age of an individual cannot be determined from the document or contextual information, it will be assumed that the individual is less than 100 years old.

The files containing the drawing have, in many cases, information relating to a number of individuals. In some cases, this information may be open, but it is rarely the case that a complete file can be made unconditionally accessible. A period of review to determine which documents can be accessed is required before access can be granted, and potential researchers should factor this in when seeking access to the collection.

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 1998. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the UML to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Acquisition Information

Transferred to the University of Manchester Library in 2016 from the Museum of Medicine and Health, Stopford Building, University of Manchester.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.


None expected.

Related Material

This collection has a close relationship to the Davison Medical Illustrations Collection (GB 133 VFA.7), and several items in this collection are related to the completed medical illustration illustrations made by Davison.

Some of the sketches are also related to the surgical case notes of Sir Geoffrey Jefferson, and where there is clear evidence of a connection, they have been cross-referenced to the relevant file in this collection GB 133 JCN


A comprehensive bibliography of Davison's works is given in Davison Medical Illustrations catalogue (VFA.7)

Geographical Names