Bethlem Museum of the Mind

Bethlem Museum of the Mind, the pioneering new gallery and museum at the world’s oldest psychiatric hospital, Bethlem Royal Hospital at Beckenham, south London, has been named as one of the finalists competing for the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2016.

Situated within the hospital grounds, Bethlem Museum of the Mind was formally opened by artist Grayson Perry in March 2015.  The museum showcases both the unique historical collection, contemporary art installations and work by Bethlem (commonly known as Bedlam) patients past and present who have experienced mental distress.

Victoria Northwood, Director of Bethlem Museum of the Mind said, “The Museum offers a vital opportunity to explore and consider the history of mental healthcare and treatment. Making the Museum of the Year shortlist is a tribute to every person who worked to create the new Museum, as well as the artists – current and former Bethlem patients – whose work we are proud to display.”

Details from: The Maze, 1953 (gouache on board) by William Kurelek,  Bethlem Royal Hospital Museum, Beckenham, Kent
Details from: The Maze, 1953 (gouache on board) by William Kurelek, Bethlem Royal Hospital Museum, Beckenham, Kent

Historical and Contemporary Art

Objects displayed in the museum include the historical sculptures of Melancholia and Raving Madness by renowned sculptor Caius Cibber (thought to have been modelled upon patients) which graced the gates of the 18th century hospital.

Left: Raving Madness, c.1670-1700 (carved stone) by Caius Gabriel Cibber Right:  Sketch to Illustrate the Passions - Agony - Raving Madness, 1854 (w/c on paper) by Richard Dadd
Left: Raving Madness, c.1670-1700 (carved stone) by Caius Gabriel Cibber
Right: Sketch to Illustrate the Passions – Agony – Raving Madness, 1854 (w/c on paper) by Richard Dadd

Communicating mental distress

Through its exhibitions, the museum hopes to promote public understanding and de-stigmatisation of mental illness. Bethlem runs a small, artist-led gallery and workshop that encourages patients to experiment and collaborate in a safe, artistic environment. Art is seen as a means of facilitating recovery, or as a way of expressing the effects of mental health difficulties. 

Depression II, 1975 (oil on board) by Marion Patrick (1940-93)
Depression II, 1975 (oil on board) by Marion Patrick (1940-93)

Notable artists

Many works in Bethlem’s collection were produced by professional artists whose mental health deteriorated later in their careers, including

Richard Dadd, who was trained at the Royal Academy, London

Charlotte Johnson, who depicted her experiences of therapy while staying at Maudsley hospital

Bryan Charnley, who studied at art college before being hospitalised with schizophrenia at 25

To the Farm, c.1987 (oil on canvas) by Bryan Charnley (1949-91)
To the Farm, c.1987 (oil on canvas) by Bryan Charnley (1949-91)

Louis Wain

One of Bethlem’s most notorious artists is Louis Wain, best known for his drawings of cats.

Originally an art journalist, his whimsical cat images proved hugely popular from the 1880s onwards. Even after he was institutionalised, Wain continued to create works and hold exhibitions until his death.

Left:  Taking the Waters as Seen by Louis Wain, c.1930 (colour litho) by Louis Wain (1860-1939) Right: Phrenology, c.1911 (ink on paper) by Louis Wain (1860-1939)
Left: Taking the Waters as Seen by Louis Wain, c.1930 (colour litho) by Louis Wain (1860-1939)
Right: Phrenology, c.1911 (ink on paper) by Louis Wain (1860-1939)

Read more

The Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year celebrates museums and galleries across the UK – annually awarding one outstanding winner £100,000. Take a look at the 2016 shortlist

Bethlem Royal Hospital was founded in 1247 and was the first institution in the UK to specialise in the care of the mentally ill. The hospital continues to provide in-patient care as part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, and has been based in south London since 1930. The museum cares for an internationally renowned collection of archives, art and historic objects, which together offer an unparalleled resource to support the history of mental healthcare and treatment.

Ask, and Get, No Reassurance, 1974 (oil on board), Charlotte Johnson Wahl / Bethlem Museum of the Mind, Beckenham, Kent
Ask, and Get, No Reassurance, 1974 (oil on board), Charlotte Johnson Wahl / Bethlem Museum of the Mind, Beckenham, Kent

Images for licensing

The poignant images in this collection offer invaluable insight for anyone wishing to explore the sensitive issues surrounding wellbeing that cannot be communicated through words or photography.

See all images from Bethlem Museum of the Mind for licensing. Contact the Bridgeman team for any queries regarding pricing and copyright. 

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