Posts Tagged 'art'

Flight of Ideas: New Exhibition at the Bethlem Gallery opens 2 October

Next week, an exciting new exhibition to celebrate world mental health day will open at the Bethlem Gallery.  Flight of Ideas will start on 2 October, and continue until 25 October 2013.

Flight of Ideas is an exhibition of postcards made by artists staying and working in hospitals across Europe.  This exhibition is an international collaboration between innovative arts practice, studio spaces and galleries based within psychiatric healthcare in Croatia, France, Italy and the UK.  All four organisations are unique within their own countries.  Flight of Ideas celebrates their shared ideals framing them within the context of each nation’s system of mental health care.  These differing institutions all facilitate creative activity as part of the recovery process during a person’s time in hospital and support professional development of these artists beyond the hospital setting.

At the heart of the exhibition are the artists themselves. Their extraordinary talent will be presented within the size of a postcard but is broad and varied in the range of style, media and technique employed.  Artists working within the hospital environments range from having formal arts training to the self-taught. Their work shows, better than any document, their identity as artists and their right to lay claim to that status.

The World As Was Before, by Anon

The World As Was Before, by Anon (The Azienda USL di Reggio Emilia, Italy)


Art in the Asylum: Upcoming Events

September sees the opening of several events that may be of interest to our readers, some of which include items from the Bethlem Collection. First off, an exhibition opens today at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine by the Centre for Global Mental Health: One in Four: Experience and Action. The exhibition is open daily between 10 and 4, and brings together items offering unique perspectives on the experience of living with mental ill-health, as well as the work of the Centre. Free accompanying events include evening film screenings, lectures and discussions, such as the contribution of the Patient Voices Programme to improved mental health care in Manchester on 8 October and the role of service user involvement in research and advocacy on October 10. The exhibition itself runs until 1 January 2014.

Later in the week, Art in the Asylum: Creativity and the Evolution of Psychiatry opens at the Djanogly Art Gallery in Nottingham. Exploring the role of art in mental health care and treatment from 1800 to the 1970s, the exhibition incorporates art from national and international archives, including the Bethlem collection and the Adamson Collection. The display aims to provide a historical overview of the diagnostic and therapeutic use of patient artwork, as well as its wider recognition through associations with Art Brut and so-called Outsider Art. Free lectures and tours run alongside the exhibition, which is open daily until 3 November. These include an evening talk on the life and legacy of Edward Adamson on 11 September, a lecture by Maureen Park on the nineteenth-century collection put together by W.A.F. Browne at the Crichton Royal Institution on 18 September, and Nicholas Tromans on Richard Dadd on October 16th.

Finally, in October, the UCL Centre for the History of Psychological Disciplines will host a three-day conference on the history of psychotherapeutics, from moral treatment to psychological therapies. The conference programme is soon to be announced, at

Nicholas Tromans at the Bethlem Museum

Dr Nicholas Tromans (author of Richard Dadd: The Artist and the Asylum) visited the museum on Saturday 11 February to formally open the exhibition ‘Richard Dadd: An Artist Abroad’. Tromans (pictured below) gave a short talk concentrating on Dadd’s pre-Bethlem art, the topic of the exhibition, and detailing his travels between July 1842 and May 1843. He commented on Dadd’s remarkable self-assurance as a young artist abroad, considerably younger than other artists in the contemporary Orientalist movement. Dadd’s travels were financed by a gentleman tourist, Sir Thomas Phillips, with whom he travelled, making drawings of all the places they visited. As Tromans described it in his recent book, Richard Dadd: The Artist and the Asylum:

The world through which Phillips and Dadd travelled between July 1842 and May 1843 was that of the traditional grand tour of Italy and Greece, now extended thanks to steam travel into the Ottoman world of Turkey, Egypt and ‘Syria’ (the modern-day Arab countries west of Iraq.1

The whistle-stop tour apparently alternately elated and frustrated Dadd: fascinated by the exotic places he witnessed, but not having time to draw them properly. Only two of Dadd’s sketchbooks from the time survive, one in our collections. Those who missed the fascinating talk given by Dr Tromans, or who want to hear more about Richard Dadd and his work, in particular additional information about his period at Bethlem, can catch him on You Tube.

The exhibition on Dadd at the Museum – An Artist Abroad – runs until 27 April, with a further talk by the curator on Saturday 10 March. See our website for details.

1 Tromans, N. Richard Dadd: The Artist and the Asylum, London: Tate Publishing (2011), p. 37

Nick - Blog 004 (2)

In the Frame for December 2011

One of my favourite works in the collection is A ‘Fisk’ Out of Aqua. We sell a postcard of it in the shop and it makes me smile every morning when I walk through the front door.

At first glance the picture seems perfectly straightforward. A ‘fish out of water’: someone who is ill at ease in their surroundings, floundering. But then you notice that it is not a fish but a ‘Fisk’. Is this a play on somebody’s name perhaps? Or a neologism?

The somewhat bedraggled fish in the picture, on closer inspection, turns out to be formed from what appear to be a bird, an eel and a grasshopper. Two faces can be made out in profile at the base of the painting, with the silhouette of giraffes (or maybe dinosaurs?) superimposed. A further bearded face can be seen at the top-left hand corner, with an arrow pointing down at it.

We know very little about the artist who created this work, beyond the fact that he or she is likely to have been a patient at the Maudsley Hospital. Another painting thought to be by the same artist, titled A Japanese Fly Blown Eppherr is signed ‘Myers’ and dated August 1950. But the lack of background information or clear interpretation is for me part of the appeal, and encourages me to come back to this picture again and again.


Unknown, and Unknowable? Bethlem Gallery Exhibition opens 27 July

The Bethlem Gallery invites you to an exhibition curated by staff at Bethlem’s Archives & Museum, opening on Wednesday 27th July 2011. Here is displayed a selection of works by patients of past generations whose names and creative intentions are lost to posterity, and whose artistic visions survive only in their output. The Exhibition has already received interest online, with reports in Unfolded Magazine and Cassone Art.

The exhibition bears haunting witness to that loss:

  • to faces lost in a crowd
  • to faces lost in thought, or bereft of it
  • to faces impervious to, or turned away from, our interrogating gaze
  • to figures held captive to, or struggling to surmount, nameless opposition.

Can their stories ever be told, or will they even be heeded?

Like patient data in epidemiological research or subjects in restricted legal proceedings, these artists remain unknown, but the questions their works raise are insistent. Is anonymity to be craved, or rather recognition? When we have lost our names, have we lost everything?

The name of the artist, the title of the work, the year in which it was created. That’s all most galleries put on their captions accompanying artworks on display. Maybe a brief description of the subject of the painting. Everything else is just interpretation, and doesn’t belong on a label, does it? But what if the names of the artists and artworks were unknown? What if there was nothing to put on the labels? What if all we were left with was interpretation?

‘Developing Unknown, and Unknowable? has been a fascinating experience,’ says one of the exhibition’s curators. ‘The absence of the kind of contextual information usually available – artists’ names, titles of artworks, dates – is an invitation to reflect on the ways of seeing the world offered to us by these rarely shown works. Even if we knew the artists responsible for them, they would still be extraordinarily evocative. As it is, they are utterly compelling.’

The exhibition will run from its opening on 27th July to 19th August 2011, and will include a Saturday opening on 6th August (which will feature, at 12 noon on that day, a brief talk) as well as the normal Wednesday-Friday opening hours. Visitors to the Gallery are also encouraged to explore the Archives & Museum.

 LDBTH321-Figures in Rocky Landscape b

Staff Change at the Archives and Museum

Our visit to the Imperial War Museum’s Dome Chapel a few months ago ago marked a major change in the life of the Archives and Museum: the retirement of the Head of Archives and Museum, J. Michael Phillips. Michael has headed the museum for over seven years, leading us through an increase in visitor numbers, education and outreach services, and ensuring the Archives and Museum became fully integrated into the Hospital’s efforts to increase public understanding of, and destigmatise mental illness.

Michael has also headed the Archives and Museum’s relocation Steering Group, raising funds for the new Archives and Museum. His successor, Victoria Northwood, will take over this project as we move towards our fundraising target and develop plans for the new museum. Victoria has previously worked at the Globe Theatre, where exhibitions around last year’s Bedlam play explored links between art, theatre and mental health. We are sorry to see Michael leave, and wish him a long and happy retirement, but look forward to a new and exciting era, with the relocation now seemingly in sight.

In the Dome, Michael kindly presented the Archives and Museum with a new addition to the collection – one of the few artists from the Hospital’s history not already represented – a sketch, by Dr Thomas Monro, which may appear in a future In the Frame post. Monro, the third of his family to occupy the position of Bethlem Physician, was physician from 1787 until his resignation in 1816, following the investigation of the Select Committee into Bethlem the previous year. However, Monro was also well-known as an art collector, being a patron of many well-known artists, as well as an amateur artist himself.


Dr Thomas Monro (1759 – 1833)

A Temple by a River

In the Frame for July 2011

This month’s In the Frame is written by a work experience student who was recently with us, and highlights a pair of pictures drawn by the artist Peter Richardson.

‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘Satan’, depicted below in two drawings, made with graphite pencil by Peter Richardson, show two biblical opposites, intriguingly represented without sufficiently obvious visual clues to adequately distinguish one from the other. At first, this suggested to me that perhaps the artist saw the differences between ‘good and evil’ (represented here by Jesus and Satan) as non-descript and insubstantial. The artist seems to enforce this by using similar human forms on which each composition is based.

However, on closer inspection, the differences between the two drawings become more apparent. First of all, Richardson uses an additional yellow pencil with the graphite in his drawing of ‘Jesus Christ’ which adds more light and detail to the image, especially as it is only applied on the body of the figure. This contrasts with the transparency of the body of ‘Satan’ and perhaps shifts emphasis onto the illuminated form of Christ. In addition to this, ‘Jesus Christ’ is decorated with a halo, further acknowledging the associations with godliness and light.

The drawing of ‘Satan’, by contrast, has been overlaid with lines which mark out a cloak and horns – a stereotypical and characteristic representation of ‘Satan’, and therefore evil.

It seems to me that an important theme in these drawings is support. This is shown by Christ’s elevation as he seems to be suspended a small distance above the floor. ‘Satan’, on the other hand, is firmly grounded and, in addition to this, seems to be leaning heavily against a wall. This is perhaps an allusion to the support needed by the artist when in a particularly difficult and evil part of his life.