Bethlem art collection

29 MARCH 2004

The Bethlem art collection
specialises in work by artists
who have suffered from mental health problems, though there are some
exceptions (such as drawings by spiritualist mediums – not currently
on show).  Since 1982 it has included the Guttmann-Maclay Collection,
which was founded by Drs Eric Guttmann and Walter Maclay when they were
working at the Maudsley Hospital in the 1930s, and was later housed
in the Institute of Psychiatry. 

    The pictures come from many different sources. 
It should not be assumed that all the artists have been patients in either
Bethlem or the Maudsley Hospital, or necessarily in any hospital at
     Pictures and other works currently on
show include:-

Thirteen watercolours by the Victorian artist Richard Dadd
(1817-1886), who continued to paint throughout his forty two years
of confinement in Bethlem and Broadmoor hospitals.  The museum holds
some of the finest examples of Dadd’s watercolours in any public collection,
some of them acquired in recent years with generous help from the National
Art Collections Fund, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the National Heritage
Memorial Fund and the Pilgrim Trust.

Watercolours and drawings by Louis Wain (1860-1939),
‘the man who drew cats’, who spent his last fifteen years in Springfield,
Bethlem and Napsbury hospitals – still drawing cats. 
museum holds a substantial collection of Wain’s work, much of it dating
from his period in Napsbury Hospital, though only a small selection is
on show.

The Maze by the Canadian artist William Kurelek, painted
in the Maudsley Hospital in 1953.  This famous autobiographical
painting by the 26-year-old Kurelek depicts the inside of
his own head, cut open to reveal scenes from his past and present life
which form the psychological maze in which he is trapped.

Drawings and paintings by Cynthia Pell, whose lifelong manic-depressive
illness led to her suicide in 1977.  These vivid and powerful
drawings, made in Bexley Hospital shortly before her death, record with
great courage the daily life and suffering around her.

Late paintings by Charles Sims RA (1873-1928), whose dramatic
change in style during the two years before his suicide seems to reflect
his mental turmoil during this period.

Apocalyptic dreams and visions by Jonathan Martin
(1782-1838), drawn while he was confined in Bethlem after his attempt
– almost successful – to burn down York Minster in 1829. 

Ceramics by Bibi Herrera, who came to England as a political
refugee from Chile after imprisonment and torture under the Pinochet
regime in the 1970s.  She learnt to make her distinctive and colourful
pots, their decoration often inspired by Chilean Indian art, during
an admission to Bethlem in 1994.  



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About Jay Babcock

I am the co-founder and editor of Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curator of the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was one of five Angelenos listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. Today, I live a peaceful life in Tucson, Arizona with Stephanie Smith.