In the fall of 1990, a magnificent portrait appeared on the walls of the Armand Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Dr.Pozzi at Home. The great John Singer Sargent painted the sensual study in scarlet of a dark haired man in a frilled shirt and dressing gown in 1881. Though everyone who saw the portrait admired it, Dr. Pozzi at Home remained in private collections for more than a century. When the Hammer finally displayed to the public, Dr. Pozzi at Home created a sensation, and has been the object of admiration, controversy and discussion ever since. Who exactly, the public have wanted to know, was this Doctor Pozzi?
Samuel-Jean Pozzi was a man of enormous learning, compassion and charm. Often described as the 'father' of French gynecology, he was one of those responsible in the latter part of the nineteenth century for making surgery safe and effective. As a young intern he volunteered and participated in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. His experiences with treating war wounds and receiving his own injuries led him to visit Joseph Lister in Scotland in 1876, in order to study the principles of antisepsis and anesthesia that are in use to this day. Pozzi wrote one of the first comprehensive textbooks of surgery on women, in the newly christened field of gynecology. The French published the textbook in 1890 and American publishers printed the first English-language version in 1892.
Pozzi was also an anthropologist of note. He corresponded with Charles Darwin, translated one of his works and became President of the French Society of Anthropology. Samuel Pozzi traveled extensively in South America and the Mediterranean and gathered a magnificent collection of antiquities and coins. Pozzi spoke English fluently and made three extended visits to the United States where he enjoyed the friendship of the Mayo Brothers, Howard Kelly and William Halsted in Baltimore, and other eminent American surgeons. His contributions to women's health were enormous.
He was also an ardent republican and humanist. Brought up a Protestant and educated in lycées in the south-west of France, from 1898 to 1901, he was Senator for his native Dordogne. During those years, many of the events of the famous Dreyfus case, which bitterly divided much of French society, played out. Pozzi, always a supporter of Dreyfus and an intimate of many of those who championed his cause, represented the Senate at the second Dreyfus trial and later became Dreyfus’s personal physician.
It is as a friend and confidant, though, that Pozzi attracted the greatest interest in the English-speaking world. He was an intimate of many luminaries of the time – of Marcel Proust, of Clemenceau, of Robert de Montesquiou, of Leconte de Lisle and other writers and poets. Above all, as a friend of women, Pozzi enjoyed a life-time association with Sarah Bernhardt, a friendship that began as a passionate sexual affair that continued on and off for almost ten years, and then developed into a relationship of deep mutual understanding. He was a friend to the poet Louise Ackermann, Judith Gautier, intellectual and muse to Wagner, to Madame Straus, widow of Bizet and hostess of one of the most important salons of late nineteenth century Paris, to Augustine Bulteau, long-time noted columnist for Figaro, and to many more including Madame Marie Curie, with whom, prior to his untimely death, he had planned to collaborate on future projects. These friendships were more intellectual than physical, and spawned fascinating correspondence and exchanges of ideas.
Unfortunately, few English speakers knew about this Renaissance man and the definitive biography, published in 1993 by Claude Vanderpooten, is now out of print. We hope to bring this marvelous man to life and eradicate some of the myths surrounding Samuel Pozzi since the public unveiling of Dr. Pozzi At Home.