Professor Harry Burr Ferris 1930

En face half portrait, standing. The sitter is bald and wears round nickel glasses. He is wearing a dark gray suit with a white shirt and gray tie, over which a black gown with a dark green ribbon draped across his chest. To the right of the sitter is a microscope on a small table, on which the sitter is leaning with his left hand. Background painted in flat ocher, structured only by brushstrokes.

JQAW# P_1930_200
Oil on canvas 128 x 91 cm
Signature: John Quincy Ɑdams 4.XI.30.
Department of Anatomy, Yale University, USA
Yale University Art Galley 1931.627
Image: Medical Historical Library, Cushing/Whitney Medical Library OID 16787535
For color photo (highly reflective) see cross-references.

Harry Burr Ferris 21.5.1865 Greenwich to 12.10.1940 New Haven, longtime Yale anatomy professor and anthropologist.
Harry Burr Ferris was born in Greenwich, Connecticut in 1865 and attended high school in Stamford, graduating from Yale College with a bachelor's degree with honors in 1887, and from Yale Medical School in 1890 with a M.D. After a brief interlude at New Haven Hospital and as a practicing physician, he devoted himself fully to teaching from 1892, first as assistant professor, then from 1895 as professor. In 1897 he was appointed E.K. Hunt Professor for Anatomy. For over 40 years, Professor Ferris taught anatomy at Yale University. As a teacher, he is described as follows: “His knowledge of anatomy was prodigious and his memory frightening. His lectures are unforgettable. They were delivered quietly, without notes, and were lucid and logical expositions of the facts of anatomy, enriched with frequent references to the problems of clinical medicine” (Burr, 1940, p.500). In addition to his extensive teaching, Prof. Ferris also conducted research on anatomical and medical problems, including early research on cancer. Also noteworthy is his interest in anthropology, where he contributed to the Yale research on the Inca in Peru (in the course of which Machu Picchu was discovered) and published several papers. His extensive knowledge also allowed him to survey broad historical periods. In 1932 he published a remarkable chapter on the natural history of man in the classic "The Evolution of Man", Yale University Press, 1932: pp.39-79). He retired in 1933 and died after a short illness in 1940.

Harry Burr Ferris married Helen Whiting (1867-1943) in 1892. The couple had two children: daughter Helen Ferris Hooker (1893-1981) and son Harry Whiting Ferris (1899-1985), who as a physician followed the footsteps of his father. In addition to the Adams portrait, the memory of Harry Burr Ferris was honored by a "Ferris Room" (library and study) and a Harry Burr Ferris Thesis Prize from the University.

The present portrait was painted in the course of a series of Yale faculty portraits for which Adams was recruited during the period 1929-1931. According to the signature, it was executed in New Haven on November 4, 1930. Adams was entrusted with this portrait at the suggestion of Prof. Joseph Marshall Flint (see his Adams Portrait), who was a friend of Adams and also wrote an extensive article on the artist. The artists honorarium was raised by a collection among 631 colleagues and students and illustrates the wide appreciation for Prof. Ferris, a fact that was even specially reported in an article in the New York Times (1.2.1931 p.36). The painting remained at the University's Department of Anatomy, where, as a private color photograph kindly forwarded by a Yale member (see cross-references) shows, it was somewhat damaged in the student environment. Restoration and professional color documentation of the image would be a good way to demonstrate continued recognition for this outstanding teacher and to honor the memory of Prof. Harry Burr Ferris.


Department of Anatomy, Yale University, New Haven, USA.


1931 gift by associates and students to Department of Anatomy, Yale University, USA, Inv.Nr. 1931.627.