Guillaume Dupuytren

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Guillaume Dupuytren, photogravure
Guillaume Dupuytren, lithograph

Baron Guillaume Dupuytren (5 October 1777 – 8 February 1835) was a French anatomist and military surgeon. Although he gained much esteem for treating Napoleon Bonaparte's hemorrhoids, he is best known today for Dupuytren's contracture which is named after him and which he described in 1831.

Birth and education[edit]

Guillaume Dupuytren was born in the town of Pierre-Buffière in the present-day department of Haute-Vienne.

He studied medicine in Paris at the newly established École de Médecine and was appointed, by competition, prosector when only eighteen years of age. His early studies were directed chiefly to anatomical pathology. In 1803 he was appointed assistant surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu and in 1811 he became professor of operative surgery in succession to Raphael Bienvenu Sabatier. In 1816 he was appointed to the chair of clinical surgery and became head surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu. He held this post until his death.


He visited the Hôtel-Dieu morning and evening, performing at each time several operations, lectured to vast throngs of students, gave advice to his outpatients, and fulfilled the duties consequent upon one of the largest practices of modern times. By his indefatigable activity he amassed a fortune, the bulk of which he bequeathed to his daughter, with the deduction of considerable sums for the endowment of the anatomical chair in the École de Médecine, and the establishment of a benevolent institution for distressed physicians. The most important of Dupuytren's writings is his Treatise on Artificial Anus, in which he applied the principles laid down by John Hunter. In his operations he was remarkable for his skill and dexterity, and for his great readiness of resource.

Dupuytren was one of the first surgeons to successfully drain a brain abscess using trepanation, in which a hole is cut in the skull, and he also used the method to treat seizures.[1] He claimed credit for originally describing melanoma and claimed Laennec stole the idea from his lectures. [2]

He died in Paris, and there with his bequest established the Musée Dupuytren.

He was a brilliant teacher, an astute diagnostician and a gifted surgeon. On the other hand he was extremely critical of students and colleagues who failed to live up to his exacting professional standards. This, along with his desire to be the best of the best won him numerous critics, not all of them objective. He has been described by such colourful epithets as 'The Brigand of Hôtel-Dieu by Lisfranc and 'First among surgeons, least among men' by Percy.

In fiction[edit]

  • The surgeon Desplein, in Balzac's short story "The Atheist's Mass," is based on Dupuytren.[citation needed]
  • Dupuytren's success at draining a cerebral abscess is referred to in Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary: "not Dupuytren, about to open up an abscess through a thick encephalic layer" (Part Two, Chapter 11).
  • Reference is made in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables: “Dupuytren and Recamier entered into a quarrel in the amphitheatre of the School of Medicine, and threatened each other with their fists on the subject of the divinity of Jesus Christ.”[3]


  1. ^ Jensen RL, Stone JL (1997). "Benjamin Winslow Dudley and Early American trephination for posttraumatic epilepsy". Neurosurgery 41 (1): 263–268. doi:10.1097/00006123-199707000-00045. PMID 9218316. 
  2. ^ Denkler K, Johnson J. (1999). "A lost piece of melanoma history". Plast Reconstr Surg 104 (7): 2149–53. doi:10.1097/00006534-199912000-00032. PMID 11149783. 
  3. ^ Excerpt From: Hugo, Victor. “Les Misérables.” Bookbyte Digital. iBooks.


Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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