Did You Know That Louis Pasteur Was an Artist?

By Shaun Richard McCann

Did you know that Louis Pasteur was an artist?

He was born in 1822 in Dôle north of Lyon, France. As a young boy he enjoyed drawing and later became a portrait painter. The French art critic Durand Gréville remarked: ‘If he had wanted to be, he would have held his own among the painters and-who knows-become a very great painter’. Pasteur wanted a career as an artist but his father explained to him that most artists don’t receive enough income for a decent life. Pasteur however, pursued a career in science and was responsible for many important discoveries. As a student in 1845 for his licencé ès science, he discovered that natural tartrate, an acid formed during grape fermentation during wine making, existed in a ‘right-handed’ and ‘left-handed’ form (mirror-images: chirality). Right-handed and left-handed versions may have widely varying functions. The drug Thalidomide is a good example as the teratogenicity is only associated with the S enantiomer. Gal has suggested that prior experience as a lithographer may have influenced Pasteur. In lithography a drawing is etched onto limestone with wax or oil and acid. Before a lithograph is printed, a dye is applied to make the image visible. Then white paper is pressed on top of the etching to produce a print (a mirror image) of the original drawing.

Pasteur made many contributions to medicine notably vaccination. Throughout his life he was a major supporter of the arts.

Pasteur separated left and right crystals. In solution one form rotated polarized light to the left and the other to the right. 

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