Surgeon and teacher

Luther Holden was born in Birmingham, the son of a clergyman. He trained in medicine and became a highly respected surgeon and teacher. He began work at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1846 as Superintendent of Dissection, demonstrating anatomy through dissection, and later lecturing in anatomy. He was appointed Assistant Surgeon in 1860, and then Surgeon in 1865.

Holden was elected Honorary Surgeon of the Foundling Hospital in 1864 and subsequently a Governor in 1868. As an eminent medical practitioner he continued the tradition, started by Dr Mead, of giving advice to the Hospital free of charge.

Travels in later life

In 1879, Holden became President of the Royal College of Surgeons. He formally retired from St Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1880. A very similar portrait by the same artist is in the collection of Barts Health NHS Trust, commissioned and presented by Holden to mark his retirement. He travelled extensively in his later years, visiting Egypt, Australia, India and Japan and spending time in South Africa. He remained the Foundling Hospital’s Honorary Surgeon until his death, when he left a generous bequest to the institution in his will together with this painting.

About the artist

Sir John Everett Millais was an acclaimed Victorian artist and one of the founder members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He worked as a successful painter and illustrator and became the first artist to be given a hereditary title in 1885.