Ferdinand-Jean Darier

Born 1856
Died 1928

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French dermatologist, born April 26, 1856, Budapest; died 1938.

Biography of Ferdinand-Jean Darier

Ferdinand-Jean Darier came from a Huguenot family who had emigrated from Dauphine, France, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV on October 18, 1685. His parents moved to Budapest before his birth in 1856, and returned to Geneva when he was eight years of age. By this time he was fluent in Hungarian, French and German.

Although he commenced medical studies in Geneva at the early age of 15, he decided to leave for Paris. He became an externe in 1878, in 1880 Interne des Hôpitaux de Paris. He became a naturalised Frenchman and settled in Paris. Following his doctoral thesis in Paris in 1885, he joined Ranvier’s laboratory in the Collège de France.

Darier was head of a medical department in the Hôpital Saint-Louis from 1909 to 1922.

He was one of the most brilliant dermatologists of his day, both in clinics and histology. He was the last surviving member of the celebrated «Big Five» - Ernest Henri Besnier (1831-1909), Louis-Anne-Jean Brocq (1856-1928), Darier, Raymond Jacques Adrien Sabouraud (1864-1938), all dermatologists, and Jean Alfred Fournier (1832-1915), whose prime interest was in venereal disease. This group made the Paris school of dermatology one of the most famous of its time. Following his training in Louis Antoine Ranvier’s (1835-1922) laboratory in histology he became Médecin des Hôpitaux and worked at La Roche Foucauld, La Pitié, Broca, and finally St. Louis.

Although an outstanding clinical dermatologist, Darier's international reputation was based to a large extent upon his endeavours in the field of histopathology. In addition to the conditions that bear his name, he published seminal papers on atrophic lichen planus and cutaneous sarcoidosis, tuberculosis and leprosy.

Darier held the conviction that investigations of cutaneous histopathology were an essential part of the diagnostic process. He made extensive use of material of this type in his articles and lectures, and founded the Museum of Histology at the Hôpital St.-Louis

Darier was an innovator in the use of radiotherapy, chemotherapy and vaccines, and his enthusiasm was evident in his lectures, which attracted large audiences.

Darier was an extremely cultivated and charming person who collected objets d’art and had a very keen sense of humour. He was fluent in German and Italian but although he could read English well – his favourite author was Rudyard Kipling – he would rarely be persuaded to speak English.

In his obituary he was described by the English dermatologist Ernest Gordon Graham-Little (1867-1950) as being "of middle height and slender figure, which he retained to the end, as well as an undiminished head of hair. He wore a small and well-kept beard. A noble Roman nose, truly symbolic of his character in its Roman simplicity and thoroughness, dominated his face. He gave one throughout his life the impression of abundant energy, vivacity, and those indefinable personal qualities summed up in the word 'charm'; he cultivated a certain elegance in his dress, and was a collector of beautiful objects."

Darier received academic recognition by appointments as Professor at the Collège de France, Member of the Academy of Medicine, Commander of the Legion of Honour and President of the International league of Dermatology. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Budapest and was given a similar distinction by the University of Geneva on his 80th birthday.

In 1921 Darier retired to his country estate in the village of Longpont-sur-Orge, a small town in the Parisian suburban area. He was mayor of the village from 1925 to 1935 and was much concerned with local issues.

At the age of 70, Darier was the chief editor of the greatest French dermatological encyclopaedia: Nouvelle Pratique Dermatologique, 8 volumes published in 1936. This was the standard text of its time.

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