Back, Ivor Gordon, F.R.C.S., Mr, (1879-1951): Portrait of a Surgeon (1926) by Sir William Orpen.

Medium : Oil on Canvas : 40.375 x 33.25 inches (102.6 x 84.5 cms).

Signed: Lower Right (Black) ‘ORPEN’

Current Location: Private Collection.

BACK, Ivor Gordon (1879-1951). M.R.C.S. 11 May 1905; F.R.C.S. 13 June 1907; B.A. Cambridge 1901; M.A., M.B., B.Ch. 1907; L.R.C.P. 1905.

Born 31 August 1879, the eldest son of Francis Formby Back of Harrow Weald, proprietor of The Egyptian Gazette. He won classical scholarships at Marlborough College and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1901 with second-class honours in natural science. He distinguished himself in rowing and boxing. He took his clinical training at St George’s Hospital, where he won an entrance scholarship, qualified in 1905, won the Allingham scholarship at St George’s in 1906, and took the Fellowship in 1907. He was house surgeon, house physician and obstetric assistant at St George’s, and was elected assistant surgeon in 1910 when Lawrence Jones, F.R.C.S. retired through bad health. Back carried on the sound methods of his immediate predecessors, Marmaduke Sheild, F.R.C.S. and Crisp English, F.R.C.S. He won an Albert Kahn travelling fellowship in 1911 and wrote the required record of his voyage around the world, which was privately printed in 1913. During the war of 1914-18, he served in the R.A.M.C., with the rank of captain, at the 4th London General Hospital, the 54th General Hospital in France, and as a surgical specialist at Catterick Camp, Yorkshire.

 He was elected surgeon to St George’s in 1918, and became consulting surgeon on his retirement in 1938, but returned to active work 1943-45 during the second war. He was appointed governor of the hospital in 1951. Back was an assistant surgeon at the Royal Waterloo Hospital for Women and Children, and surgeon (proctologist) at the Grosvenor Hospital for Women, where he developed and practised the abdominoperineal technique for cancer of the rectum introduced by W. Ernest Miles, F.R.C.S. He was also examined in surgery for Cambridge University. He was active in the affairs of the Medical Defence Union, serving on the council from 1944 and as president in 1949.

Ivor Back married Barbara, daughter of F. H. O. Nash of Battle, Goring, Oxfordshire, who survived him with one son, a barrister. He died on 13 June 1951, aged 71. He was a man of tall commanding presence and striking personality, and was proudly conscious of his descent, through his grandmother, from the great Duke of Wellington. He was a connoisseur of art and literature and was deeply interested in criminology. As an expert medical witness in the courts, he was absolutely imperturbable. He had considerable success as an occasional journalist, and he took high rank in Grand Lodge Freemasonry and was a past master of the Lansborough Lodge. His recreations were golf and fly fishing. He was an excellent after-dinner speaker. His portrait in an operating dress by Sir William Orpen is at the Savile Club, of which Back had been chairman.

He had a large private practice in Queen Anne Street and later at 4 Park Square West, and lived at 8 Connaught Place, London W2.

Seated to just below the knee, body facing bottom left, head turned towards the viewer. Wearing a white full surgical gown, and brown rubber gloves resting on his parted knees. Dangling from his right hand is a white surgical cap. Light curtain backdrop.

Provenance: Artist’s Studio Book: Sold for £100 but a notation in brackets “(offered 2500 guineas)”;

Back, Ivor (The Sitter);

Savile Club, London (1953) (On Loan);

Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Canada (On Loan from Mrs Ivor Back from the Gallery Opening in 1959 to 12 April 1983);

Sitter’s Family;

St George’s Hospital Medical School, Tooting (On Loan from 1983 – March 2006);

Private Collection.

Exhibited: London, Royal Academy, Summer 1926, Number 583 (44″x40″);

London, Royal Academy, Winter 1933, Number 83;

Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, Canada, Summer 1976, From Sickert to Dali, Number 20.

Literature: Royal Academy Illustrated, 1926, Judd, London, 1926, page 26;


Konody and Dark, William Orpen, Artist and Man, Seeley Service, London, 1932, Frontispiece in Colour, and pages 19, 51, 85 and 274;

British Medical Journal, 1951, #1, 1452 with portrait;

British Medical Journal, 1951, #2, 182, eulogy by G.F. Newbold;

Lancet, 1951, #1, 1371, with portrait;

Royal College of Surgeons, Lives of the Fellows, pages 30-31.

Condition: There were scratches to the lower right quadrant of the canvas, mainly to the varnish [by May 2002]. Restored and re-varnished April 2006.

Royal Academy Illustrated gives the measurements as 44″x40″. The difference may be the frame.

Studio Book Reference: 40/20-1926

Cara Copland Ref: B05:02

Laib Glass Negative Number: 12320

Verso: Canvas: “Prepared by C Robeson & Co Ltd, 99 Long Acre, London” Stamp.

Detached: “Royal Academy Winter Exhibition 1933” Label.

Stretcher: “James Boulet & Sons Ltd ‘F2?615’” Label

Biographical Details:



Round the world and back. Privately printed, 1913.

Surgery, with A. Tudor Edwards. London: Churchill. 1921.

Diseases of the salivary glands, in Choyce’s System of surgery, London  1912′; 3rd edition 1932.

Technique of gastrojejunostomy. Lancet, 1933, 2, 802.

[British Medical Journal 1951, 1,  1452,  with  portrait,  and  1951,  2,  182,  eulogy by G. F. Newbold; Lancet, 1951, 1, 1371, with portrait.]

Who’s Who, 1924, Page 103 and Who Was Who, Vol. V..

Post by Dominic Lee, Orpen Research Archives.