Exhibitions/ Art Object

[X-Ray, Broken Right Femur]

Gelatin silver print
40 x 29.9 cm (15 3/4 x 11 3/4 in.)
Credit Line:
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Denise and Andrew Saul Gift, 2005
Accession Number:
Not on view
In 1895 the German physicist Wilhelm Konrad Röntgen (1845-1923) discovered an invisible form of radiant energy which he called X rays. While these rays could pass through certain materials, such as flesh, they were partially stopped by denser matter, such as bone. Standard photographic film was responsive to the invisible radiation, and X rays were put to immediate use by the international scientific and medical communities. In 1901, Röntgen was awarded the first Nobel Prize in physics.

This photograph, inscribed Dargent Gosselin and dated October 14, 1916, is a print from a large X-ray negative of a severely fractured femur. It shows the soft tissue of the patient's buttocks, the faint shadow of an undergarment, the bone broken in three sharp pieces, and the wire mesh sling used to immobilize the injured area. Although the patient's sex cannot be determined, the date suggests a soldier wounded in World War I.

The frequent reproduction of X-ray pictures in both newspapers and scientific journals soon caught the attention of avant-garde artists and theorists fascinated by any new variety of image-making. Rendering visible what was invisible, the X ray stretched photography beyond its most obvious limit to the delight of László Moholy-Nagy, who would include four X rays in his Bauhaus publication "Painting, Photography, Film" (1925). He related the cameraless shadow-pictures to both photograms and photographs of lightning and captioned an X-ray picture of a frog: "Penetration of the body with light is one of the greatest visual experiences."
Inscription: Label affixed to print, recto TR, and inscribed in ink: "Dargent // Sasselin // 14-10-16"
Texbraun Estate; [Jean-Michel Braunschweig, Paris; sold to Gilman on May 15, 1991]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Johnson Gallery, Selections from the Collection 45," January 9, 2007 - May 6, 2007.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," May 25, 1993–July 4, 1993.

Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," August 7, 1993–October 2, 1993.

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," June 19, 1994–September 11, 1994.

National Gallery of Canada. "Beauty of Another Order: Photography in Science," October 17, 1997–January 4, 1998.

Kunsthalle Bielefeld. "Abstract Photography," December 3, 2000–February 18, 2001.

Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas. "Abstract Photography," March 24, 2001–May 3, 2001.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ""Our Future Is In The Air": Photographs from the 1910s," November 10, 2010–April 10, 2011.

Hambourg, Maria Morris, Pierre Apraxine, Malcolm Daniel, Virginia Heckert, and Jeff L. Rosenheim. The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. no. 176.

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