Three Oncologists (Professor RJ Steele, Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri and Professor Sir David P Lane of the Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee.

© Ken Currie

Ken Currie

Three Oncologists (Professor RJ Steele, Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri and Professor Sir David P Lane of the Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee.

2002

Sarah Saunders, Deputy Head of Education This Portrait of the Month is selected by Sarah Saunders, Deputy Head of Education

At first sight three ghoul-like figures, like nightmarish phantoms, radiate a sinister glow. Or are they the witches of Macbeth gathered around the gaping cauldron? They scowl back at us with exaggerated curiosity.

‘Don't come any further', they seem to say, masks strung loosely around their necks.

Notice their surgical gowns and caps and how they hold out their bloodied latex gloves. All three are hunched over with weariness; sleepless days and nights revealed in five o'clock shadows and melancholy, bloodshot eyes.

Look again and see how good has been rendered evil ("Fair is foul and foul is fair" Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 1), for what is actually seen here are three courageous, pioneering cancer specialists who emanate light and hope in this gloomy composition. Perhaps it is our own fear seen reflected in their knowing faces that we first recognise. They pass through the black curtains unafraid, while we can only stand and stare, hoping for the safe return of those we love. Behind the curtain lies any one of us. What drives them then, again and again to enter the void?

The Scottish artist Ken Currie was commissioned by National Galleries of Scotland to paint this remarkable triple portrait. It will feature in an exhibition of pioneering Scottish scientists when the Portrait Gallery re-opens in 2011. As well as marking the extraordinary contributions scientists make to improve all our lives, the portraits also reveal the role artists play in presenting the breakthroughs and discoveries of such eminent scientists to a wider audience.

To find out how Ken Currie created this unusual painting, watch the accompanying film.