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 all. 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. The 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.