Neil Watson

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 23 November 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5010

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  1. David K C Cooper

    Neil Watson was a hand surgeon who in mid-life gave up surgery and became a professional artist.

    Neil had natural artistic talents that were encouraged at St Edward’s School, Oxford, where he benefited from mentorship in drawing, painting, and music. Nevertheless, he decided to study medicine at Guy’s Hospital Medical School, where both his father and grandfather had trained. At Guy’s he represented the boat club at Henley Royal Regatta, and was active in the Art and Theatre Clubs.

    After being the orthopaedic house surgeon at Guy’s, he married, and then pursued his medical and surgical training, ultimately becoming senior registrar at the Oxford Orthopaedic Centre. He was appointed consultant at Oxford and Banbury, and then clinical reader at Oxford University, during which time he was a fellow of Green College. When a new hospital opened at Milton Keynes, he moved there to concentrate more of his attention on hand surgery. He wrote or co-edited three books on orthopaedic and hand surgery. His marriage produced three children but ended in divorce.

    Subsequently, he moved to North Carolina to marry an American, but, when he was denied a license to practise in that state, he decided to give up surgery and return to his earlier love of art. He developed successfully as a professional artist but maintained an interest in medicine by teaching microsurgery workshops, for which he received a substantial grant from the US National Institutes of Health. In 1996 he exhibited 135 of his drawings and paintings in Venice, an exhibition that was attended by an estimated 10 000 people. With the writer Renato Pestriniero, he published the book Seeking Venice, which is a combination of visual and written descriptions of that city.

    When his second marriage also broke up, Neil moved to San Francisco, where for some years he taught art at Cal Poly and the Academy of Art College (now the Academy of Art University). Although in his youth his artwork had been predominantly of buildings, it steadily became more abstract and eventually almost entirely a combination of visual images and writing. He produced three books on drawing and painting, which together included several hundred of his own original works.

    Neil had plans to marry again, but these were interrupted by his final illness. This truly “Renaissance Man” is survived by his three children, Ben, Anita, and Hugh.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5010


    • Former consultant orthopaedic and hand surgeon Oxford and Milton Keynes, and artist (b 1944; q Oxford/Guy’s Hospital, London, 1967; FRCS), died from a brain tumour on 4 October 2009.

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