There he is, on a portrait painted by John Singer Sargent – Dr. Pozzi, a dandy, gynecologist and notorious womanizer. Extremely handsome, if he lived in the 20th century for sure he would become a celebrity. Standing in his scarlet dressing gown with characteristic panache, he was described by a contemporary as “himself a kind of beautiful work of art.” For his handsome appearance and cultured demeanor, his school friends nicknamed him The Siren.
When I look at this painting I always ask – why my gynecologist doesn’t look like this?
I’m also envious of his shoes.
Pozzi was an aesthete and an art collector whom Sargent greatly revered. The artist’s admiration for his charismatic sitter is evident in this dramatic portrait. The crimson costume references images of popes and cardinals by the old masters. Pozzi’s long fingers and elegant hands suggest his surgical prowess but also hint at his sensuality. The painting can now be seen in Rijksmuseum on High Society exhibition and is truly amazing. I lost my breath when I saw it.
But back to Pozzi’s biography. In 1864, Pozzi began to his study medicine in Paris. When the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, he volunteered and became a medic. After the war, Pozzi went to Austria, Germany and Britain to study gynecological methods and became one of the pioneers of gynecology in France. He gained a reputation as a teacher, preferring to make his rounds dressed in white overalls and wearing a black cap.
In 1881, Pozzi became a hospital surgeon, specializing in gynecological and abdominal surgery. In 1913, with Georges Clemenceau he organized the first transplant symposium in Paris. In 1914, he joined the forces again when the First World War broke out and became a military surgeon.
Although his professional life is very important, we’re here to tell more about his private life.
In 1879, Pozzi married Therese Loth-Cazalis, heiress of a railroad magnate, and had three children: Catherine, Jean, and Jacques. Pozzi also had plenty of affairs: with the opera singer Georgette Leblanc, the actress Rejane, the widow of Georges Bizet and Emma Sedelmeyer Fischof. That last one was the daughter of an art dealer and wife of a horse breeder and a beautiful, cultured woman of Jewish heritage who became Pozzi’s mistress in 1890. His wife refused to grant him a divorce, but Fischof remained his companion for the rest of his life.
He was also a lover of Sarah Bernhardt.
In his early days in Paris, Pozzi had met Sarah Bernhardt through a childhood friend, the actor Jean Mounet-Sully. According to Gustave Schlumberger, they briefly became lovers, then remained lifelong friends afterward. In 1898, Bernhardt insisted on Pozzi to operate on her ovarian cyst. In 1915, she called on him again, and Pozzi arranged for a colleague to amputate her damaged leg.
With such a grand and colorful life Pozzi’s death couldn’t be any different. On June 13, 1918, Maurice Machu, a former patient from two years before, approached Pozzi in his consulting room. Pozzi had had to amputate his leg and he had become impotent. Machu asked him to operate again. When Pozzi refused because he could not remedy the situation, Machu shot him four times in the stomach. Pozzi ordered himself to be taken to the Historia Hospital but the emergency laparotomy was unsuccessful. He asked to be buried in his military uniform and died shortly afterwards. Machu committed suicide later.
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