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Researchers in Museums


Engaging the public with research & collections


Doctors, Dissection & UCL

By Gemma Angel, on 21 January 2013

  by Sarah Chaney






A visit to the current Museum of London exhibition, Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men (on until 14 April 2013), brought to mind the recent Buried on Campus exhibition in the Grant Museum. Several of us have previously blogged about reinstating the stories of the forgotten dead, as well as the issues around the display and interpretation of human remains in a museum context. As I myself wrote, the disinterrment of human remains is not unusual during building work: the Museum of London exhibition focuses on the excavation of the former Royal London Hospital burial site, during recent improvement works. The bones found showed traces of a variety of practices, including dissection for autopsy, as well as marks made during surgical practice and articulation for the creation of teaching specimens.

Dissection, particularly in the case of medical teaching, was often linked to artistic practice. Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men opens with the grisly plaster cast of James Legg, hanged for murder in 1801. Legg was subsequently flayed and posed as if crucified: a collaborative project between artists Benjamin West and Richard Crossway, and sculptor Thomas Banks, who believed that most depictions of Christ’s crucifixion were anatomically incorrect (for more on the Anatomical Crucifixion see Gemma Angel’s post). Rather less theatrically, anatomical drawings and textbooks were also created directly from dissection practice. During a recent session in the Art Museum, I discussed with visitors the way in which anatomy textbooks create stylised images, removing certain body parts in order to emphasise others. Students re-created these images for themselves: first with the corpse, then in their own sketches, re-interpreting the body in a way that made sense for their practice.

Joseph Lister – Side of the Neck and Floor of the Mouth (1850), UCL Art Museum #4801

Amongst the UCL Art Collections are a number of student sketches of the famous surgeon Joseph Lister (1827 – 1912), well-known for his introduction of antiseptic techniques into surgical practice. Born in Essex, Lister came to UCL in 1844, initially as a student of the arts. After graduating, however, he subsequently turned his attention to medical studies, continuing at UCL until he gained his M.B. in 1852. The sketches in the collection mainly date from 1849-50, produced as part of Lister’s studies. The techniques used indicate some of the interesting artistic choices available to anatomical illustrators: perhaps also the influence of Lister’s varied education and interests. The sketch above, for example, was made on tinted paper, which enabled the young Lister to highlight structures using white chalk. This emphasis, along with the effective use of colour (in this instance, major blood vessels are depicted in red, standing out clearly in an otherwise monochrome drawing), enables quick and easy recognition of bodily structures, adding depth to the sketch. For an un-trained eye, the mass of tissues within the human body could not be read in such a manner. The ability to render the three-dimensional body in a series of recognisable images – and then understand the physical body through such images – was as important as surgical skill.

Box Viewer from the UCL
Physiology Collections (080:RFH)

The huge variety of techniques for anatomically representing the human body is also evident elsewhere in the UCL Collections. The Physiology Collection includes a volume of the Edinburgh Stereoscopic Atlas of Anatomy, published in 1905. Stereoscopy became a popular technique of representing three-dimensional structures from its inception in the 1840s. Two offset photographs or other images are presented to the viewer which, when viewed through the stereoscope, are seen separately by the left and right eye. As occurs in ordinary vision, the brain combines the images perceived by both eyes; in the case of stereoscopy, giving the illusion of three-dimensional depth. The Edinburgh Atlas aimed to use this technique to represent photographs of dissections in a manner closer to that seen in the three-dimensional human body than simple sketches. Bulky and expensive, the success of the Atlas was relatively limited. It still serves, however, as an unusual reminder of the way in which the human body has continued to require anatomical translation.

Art in History: A Representation of Reality or Political Tool?

By Gemma Angel, on 5 November 2012

by Sarah Chaney






During the recent One Day in the City exhibition in the Art Museum, I had an interesting conversation with a couple of visitors who had popped in during the Marxism 2012 conference held elsewhere onsite. The exhibition took a variety of images depicting certain aspects of London over time, often raising questions about the relationship between representation and reality: for example, an etching showing the city as if viewed from a non-existent hill. Prior to aeroplanes, helicopters and even hot air balloons, the artist could not possibly have seen the city from such an angle. Yet they imagined what such a view might have looked like, and faithfully drew their idea of the reality.

Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) – London Panorama. UCL Art Museum.

By situating such images in the past, we often assume that we are seeing uncomplicated depictions of reality: what life was really like in London a hundred, two hundred, or three hundred years ago. Yet representations of London life are just that: representative of a particular individual – and, most often, social or political – point of view. When we look at historical prints as objects, stripped of their context – and even their creators – we run the risk of misinterpreting them altogether.

“Do you think?” one of the visitors mentioned above asked, “that time often causes us to dilute, or even lose altogether, the political message of historical images?” This conversation encouraged all of us to view the exhibition in a slightly different manner, looking beyond what we could recognise of “our” London (buildings, geographical landmarks or institutions) to see London as a place teeming with people who were, genuinely, historical actors: people who held diverse beliefs, opinions and ideas just as we do.

In particular, we discussed some of the etchings by William Hogarth displayed in the exhibition. It is well known today, of course, that Hogarth (1697-1764) was a satirist and social critic. His works often run in a series, charting the course of particular ways of life that he wished to critique: on display in the museum was Industry and Idleness: other examples included Marriage à la Mode and A Rake’s Progress. Despite acknowledging the critical nature of Hogarth’s work, and the strong use of symbolism within his images, scenes of London life are nonetheless often assumed to be just that: a clear representation of what life was actually like in the city during Hogarth’s life. Nowhere does this occur more frequently than in relation to the final scene in A Rake’s Progress, in which Tom Rakewell’s profligate life has seen him admitted to the “madhouse”: the Bethlem Royal Hospital (or Bedlam, as it was commonly known).

Hogarth: A Rake’s Progress (1735). Wellcome Library, London.

Hogarth’s image of “Bedlam” is often used in histories as an illustration of the eighteenth-century asylum, suggesting that various elements of the work indicate what the asylum was “really” like at the time. In particular, the well-dressed lady visitors are used to highlight the existence of public visiting in this period, a regular practice until 1770. Like most hospitals in this period, Bethlem was a charitable institution and thus was maintained by donations, which were requested from all visitors. Yet Hogarth’s image is a satire: while Rakewell’s fellow patients can be viewed in relation to diagnoses of the day (such as religious delusion, love melancholy and delusions of grandeur), they can equally be seen to satirise the state of contemporary institutions – the Church, the monarchy, and scientific endeavour. By viewing Hogarth’s image merely as a representation of the Hospital itself, we risk missing the fact that he also has plenty to say about society outside the Hospital. As in drama, literature and poetry, representations of Bethlem in art frequently aim to hold a mirror up to society, rather than to represent the realities of mental health experience and treatment.

Portrait of a Man and His Dog: The Brown Dog Affair

By Gemma Angel, on 22 October 2012

by Alicia Thornton






The prospect of finding a link between my own work (infectious disease epidemiology) and the collections in the UCL Art Museum seemed somewhat daunting at first. However, looking through the collections catalogue, I recently came across a portrait which instantly intrigued me.

The artist is Walter Westley Russell, a painter born in Essex in 1867.[1] The reason I was drawn to this portrait is the setting in which the man is pictured. He appears to be in a laboratory and is depicted standing next to a dog which seems to be either undergoing some kind of surgery, or is the subject of an experiment. As a scientist, I was interested in finding out what this experiment or surgery had been about and why the subject, Professor EH Starling, had been pictured in this way.

Starling became Professor of Physiology at UCL in 1899, where he became well known as an enthusiastic experimenter. One of his most important discoveries was the role of a hormone in pancreatic secretion. Pavlov had previously conducted experiments, for which he later won a Nobel Prize, showing that when gastric acid was present in the large intestine pancreatic juices were secreted.  He believed that this was entirely under the control of the nervous system:  when gastric acids were present in the intestine, the nerves sent a message from the walls of the intestine to the pancreas, via the brain, and the juices were released.

Starling, along with his brother-in-law William Bayliss, conducted an experiment where they stripped away the nervous tissue surrounding the large intestine. They found that when the nerves were removed the pancreatic secretions still occurred. This raised the possibility that the secretions were controlled by another system (what we now know to be the endocrine system). Starling and Bayliss hypothesised that the presence of gastric acids in the intestine caused the release of some kind of soluble substance into the blood which in turn cause the pancreatic secretions to occur. To test this theory their next experiment was to remove a small portion of the lining of the intestine of a dog. They crushed the tissue, added acid to it (mimicking the presence of gastric acid in the intestine), and injected it into the blood of an anesthetized dog. Pancreatic secretion duly followed.  So clearly the nervous system was not responsible for triggering these secretions and in fact the intestinal tissue did not even need to be in situ for the secretions to occur. This indicated to Starling and Bayliss that some substance was produced by the intestinal tissue, in response to the acid, and was carried in the blood to the pancreas where release of pancreatic juices was then stimulated. They named this substance, produced by the intestine and carried in the blood stream, secretin.[2] This was only the second ever description of any kind of endocrine substance.

Starling has, in fact, been credited with the introduction of the word hormone into the English language. After a dinner at a Cambridge college he and his colleague, the biologist William Hardy, were discussing their recent work and agreed that there was a need for an appropriate word for those agents which are released into the blood and cause activity elsewhere in the body. They consulted classicist WT Vesey who provided them for the Greek word for “I excite” or “I arouse”: ormao. Thus they settled on the word hormone which Starling first used in a lecture at the Royal College of Physicians in 1905.[3]

E.H. Starling, by Walter Westley Russell (1926). UCL Art Museum Collections; Image supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


It appears therefore, that the dog in this painting is a reference to Starling and Bayliss’ important experiment and their discovery of secretin. However, it is possible that the importance of Starling and Bayliss’ discovery is not the sole reason that the professor is pictured with a dog in his portrait. Bayliss and Starling conducted many of their experiments as demonstrations to students. Unbeknownst to them their classes had been infiltrated by two women from Sweden who were anti-vivisection activists. The women believed that the dog had not been appropriately anesthetised and showed also that the dog had been used for more than one experiment contravening the 1876 Cruelty To Animals Act. The testimonies of the women lead to a heated political argument. Bayliss and Starling were never tried under the Act. However, the arguments did not end with politicians, and anti-vivisection campaigners decided to erect a memorial to the dog in Battersea Park with a plaque which read:

In memory of the brown terrier dog done to death in the laboratories of University College in February, 1903, after having endured vivisection extending over more than two months and having been handed from one vivisector to another till death came to his release. Also in memory of the 232 dogs vivisected at the same place during the year 1902. Men and women of England, how long shall these things be?

Medical students in London were angered by the plaque, believing that vivisection was vital to their studies and the advancement of medical science. They repeatedly attacked the memorial and protested against it. The climax of what is now known as “The Brown Dog Affair” occurred in December 1907 where riots broke out both in Battersea and central London and the medical students clashed with police and anti-vivisection campaigners. Eventually the council took the decision that the cost of policing the memorial to the Brown Dog was too great and the statue was quietly removed in 1909.[4]

Starling is pictured in his portrait conducting an experiment on a small brown dog. Whether this is the same brown dog which caused the riots cannot be known but certainly conducting these experiments was central to Starling’s contribution to medical science, whilst also angering many who believed that what he had done was wrong. Discussions about using animals in scientific experiments continue today and though there are now a range of alternatives, animals are still used in certain circumstances. My own research uses data from human subjects. Like all clinical research, it must be approved by an independent ethics committee before being conducted. While the process of having a research study approved may sometimes seem painful and tedious, stories like this one remind us of the importance of having research proposals reviewed by those who may have different attitudes to those of the scientists involved in experimental research.


[1]  Oxford dictionary of National biography:  http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/35887

[2]  Bayliss, W.M. & Starling, E.H. (1902) The mechanism of pancreatic secretion. Journal of Physiology 28: 325-353.

[3]  Henderson, J. (2005) Ernest Starling and Hormones: An Historical Commentary. Journal of Endocrinology 184: 5-10.

[4] Mason, P. (1997)  The Brown Dog Affair.  Two Sevens Publishing.

Art and Psychiatry: Henry Scott Tuke

By Gemma Angel, on 15 October 2012

by Sarah Chaney





Henry Scott Tuke was a student at the Slade School of Fine Art in the 1870s, winning a three-year-scholarship in 1877: sadly, this was twenty years too early for his prize-winning work to have made it into the UCL Art Museum. The Tuke family had a number of connections with UCL, however: Henry’s elder brother was a medical student at University College Hospital.

Although biographies of the Newlyn painter often mention his doctor father, little is made of this connection – Henry remains a figure of interest for art and cultural historians, and his father for historians of medicine. Yet parallels between art and psychiatry were often emphasised in the late nineteenth century. Daniel Hack Tuke, Henry’s father, was a governor at Bethlem Royal Hospital from the 1870s until his death in 1897, and art was an important topic at the asylum, for patients and staff alike. Daniel’s obituary in the Hospital Magazine, Under the Dome, concentrated on his well-known son, noting that:

The early death of his eldest son, who was a brilliant student of University College Hospital, was a painful blow to Dr. Tuke, but no doubt he found some amount of solace under this loss in the successful career as a painter of his other son, Mr. H.S. Tuke. The latter has been a foremost member of the Newlyn School, and like most of his brother artists of that school of painters, has lived a good deal on his boat on the coast of Cornwall, and, we remember, that about three seasons since, Dr. Tuke, upon his first visit to the Hospital, after his autumn holiday, said to the present writer that he had much enjoyed it, having in good part spent it with his son upon the latter’s studio-boat. [1]

From this remark, it would seem that Henry and his father were close. It may be interesting to pay closer attention to the fact that Henry Scott Tuke is best remembered today for his Impressionist style paintings of male nudes, becoming a cult figure in gay cultural circles. Was this connection also made in his life? Certainly, homosexuality (or ‘sexual inversion’ as it was more commonly known at this time) was a topic of interest for many psychiatrists, among whom Daniel Hack Tuke was extremely prominent. In Austria, for example, forensic psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing devoted much of his magnum opus, Psychopathia Sexualis (first published in 1886) to the topic, later becoming a fervent opponent of Paragraph 26, which outlawed homosexual acts in German and Austrian law.

English sexologist, Havelock Ellis, meanwhile, had been mentored by Hack Tuke during his own days as a medical student. In the early 1890s Ellis and writer (and self-confessed ‘invert’) John Addington Symonds corresponded about a book they wished to write together on the topic. Ellis complained about the lack of interest from his medical colleagues, in particular that Daniel Hack Tuke himself “wrap[ped] a wet blanket around it [the topic], with averted eyes”. Symonds had similarly been annoyed in a letter to his friend, Edmund Gosse, that when he tried to ‘draw’ Tuke on the topic of ‘sexual inversion’ he “found that he preferred to discourse on ‘hypnotism’.”[2]

Symonds and Gosse were both certain of the ‘character’ of Henry Scott Tuke’s art (i.e. homosexual). Perhaps this was also why Symonds felt that Daniel would be a natural ally, in addition to the doctor being an old friend of his father’s. In 1891, he sent the psychiatrist his philosophical text on homosexuality, A Problem in Modern Ethics, but informed Havelock Ellis that Tuke “shrinks from entertaining the question in any practical way.”[3] A year later, Symonds was made ‘angry’ by Daniel’s attitude, seeing it as evidence of the refusal of English Medical Psychologists to discuss the topic at all. Tuke, Symonds claimed, was “unscientifically prejudiced to the last degree.”[4] Today, we may well feel that Symonds’ anger was justified, and that Daniel Hack Tuke should have lent his well-known name to a project, in support of his son. Or we may feel that the “sentimental” psychiatrist (as his colleagues described him) was the very worst person for Symonds and Ellis to approach, and that the topic of sexual inversion might, to him, have appeared personally painful. He may have worried that his involvement might reflect badly on his son’s career or, alternatively, he might not have regarded the topic as falling into the field of pathology at all. We can conclude, however, that Ellis and Symonds felt that Daniel Hack Tuke’s personal connections should encourage a commitment to exploring homosexuality both medically and politically, and that the quiet, serious doctor did not.

He did, however, keenly support his son’s career, attending exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Art – and, perhaps, at the Slade before that. While there is no work by Henry Scott Tuke himself in the UCL Collection, the Art Museum includes work by his teachers. The artist studied under Sir Edward Poynter, depicted here in a portrait by Alphonse Legros, another of Henry’s teachers.

Sir Edward Poynter by Alphonse Legros (1837 – 1911) from the UCL Art Museum


[1] Anon. “Daniel Hack Tuke, M.D., F.R.C.P., LL.D.” Under the Dome, vol. 4, no. 14 (June 1895)

[2] Havelock Ellis, John Addington Symonds, and Ivan Crozier, Sexual Inversion: A Critical Edition, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) , p. 39; Symonds to Gosse, 15 Nov 1890 in John Addington Symonds, The Letters of John Addington Symonds: Volume III 1885-1893, eds. Herbert M. Schueller and Robert L. Peters, ed.(Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1969) , p. 518

[3] Symonds to Ellis, July 1891, Symonds, John Addington, 1969, p. 587

[4] Symonds to Ellis, July 7 1892, Symonds, John Addington, 1969, p. 710

Japanese Performing Monkeys: Apes in Art & Culture

By Gemma Angel, on 8 October 2012

Suzanne Harvey #2by Suzanne Harvey






Apes in Art

For anyone interested in images of primates in the visual arts, Solly Zuckerman’s seminal book The Ape in Myth and Art is a must-read. Hidden in the back pages amidst the postscript is Ohara Koson’s print, Trained Monkey Looking at an Insect, somewhat inaccurately described as a “Chinese water colour of a monkey sniffing a flower, unknown artist.”  It is in fact a woodblock print of a trained Japanese macaque (a species better known for its preference for bathing in hot springs) looking at a bee, and can be viewed at the UCL Art Museum.  Koson is one of the best known artists of the Japanese Shin Hanga or ‘new prints’ movement, and 257 of his prints are listed by the Hanga Gallery. But what of the ape subject who appears in this portrait?

Whilst the pink face is natural, the pink waistcoat certainly is not. As he is described as trained, it seems likely that Koson’s monkey is part of the tradition of Sarumawashi, or monkey dancing, which has been a Japanese tradition for over a thousand years. The concept is so ingrained in society that there exists a single noun, 猿回し, meaning ‘showman who trains performing monkeys’.

Apes in Museums

Whilst these performing monkeys were trained to mimic human behaviours on stage, Koson’s print depicts a tethered, costumed animal following its urge to be inquisitive – a natural, rather than trained, ‘human’ quality. Do we need to train monkeys to demonstrate human-like traits? As various primate species have been shown to use such complex behaviours as deceit and manipulation, as well as the ability to learn, play and communicate, I would say no. Yet, when exploring the representations of primates in UCL museums and collections, anthropomorphism arises as a clear theme. There are of course many examples of primate specimens, including baboons and macaques, mounted to reflect their natural behaviour in the Grant Museum of Zoology, but the presence of primates in UCL museums isn’t limited to the zoological collections. As well as the Art Museum’s trained macaque, at the Petrie Museum, there are figurines of baboons playing harps, drinking beer and even performing gymnastics.

From images of performing monkeys, to figurines depicting physical feats monkeys could never achieve, each museum contains objects invaluable to researchers interested in social attitudes towards primates. These objects provoke unexpected and interesting questions: for instance, why might Ancient Egyptians have decorated their homes with beer-drinking baboons? Look out for my next post to find out why…


Stealing from Peter to Pay Paul: Satirising Slave Compensation in the Radical Prints of C. J. Grant

By Alicia C Thornton, on 28 August 2012

by Katie Donington


C. J. Grant, ‘Slave Emancipation; Or, John Bull Gulled Out Of Twenty Millions’, Woodcut printed and published by G. Drake, 12 Houghton Street, Clare Market, London (1833-35). Image © UCL Art Collection, UCL, EPC8032.

From left to right the caricatured figures represent a West Indian slave-owner, a Whig politician, a character called ‘John Bull’ who was used to represent the British public, an abolitionist and a crudely racialised group of enslaved people.

The captions read:

Slave-owner: ‘We slave robbers must have compensation for our loss. As to how the money’s got, what the devil do we know, so long as we get it.  John Bull’s a well known flat, and don’t much care how he’s robbed so long as he can get grub to eat and straw to lay on.’

Whig politician: ‘Only see how neatly I take it out of his pocket. We Whigs are dapper hands at taking swag.’

John Bull: ‘Yes, Philosopher, I do begrudge it, and most damnably too: and I can tell ye, that if ye do have it, it won’t be a voluntary grant on my part, but a complete extortion on your’s and your pals. You call ’em dear, do ye? Yes and so do I, infernal dear. You call ’em suffering slaves too, and that in the face of our poor innocent factory children for whom you hav’nt one small part of pity. To them emancipation would be an absolute blessing, but to these bishop looking niggers it’ll only be a curse.’

Abolitionist: ‘Here’s a gratifying sight for ye, Johnny Bull. Freedom for the poor dear half-starved suffering slaves. Surely after such a joyous and affecting scene as this, I know your GENEROUS disposition too well to think that you would begrudge the paltry pittance of £20,000,000 for their emancipation!!’

1st Enslaved: ‘You black teef, do you know what mancipation mean’

2nd Enslaved: ‘No nor I no no care. I know dat Massa Bull pays for it, and it must be good.’

3rd Enslaved: ‘Ha Jonny Bull you be one dam fool.’

My PhD is attached to a major new research project – The Legacies of British Slave-Ownership Project .  Launched by the History department at UCL in 2009, the project team consists of Professor Catherine Hall , Dr. Nick Draper and Keith McClelland .  The team have been investigating the relationship between slave-ownership and the formation of modern Britain. In 1833 the government brokered a deal with the slave-owners to secure emancipation for the enslaved in the British West Indies. The package involved both an apprenticeship period for the enslaved as well as the payment of £20,000,000 worth of compensation to the slave-owners. In order to receive compensation people had to register their claims, this bureaucratic process left behind a comprehensive documentation of who the slave-owners were in 1838 when the lists were compiled. This data forms the empirical basis of the project which is using the information to build a publically accessible online encyclopaedia of British slave-ownership.

The C. J. Grant image is the project’s logo and is from the UCL Art Museum Collection.  Printed on cheap paper and sold for a penny, the image satirises the controversial decision to pay the slave-owners compensation, depicting it as a theft from the public pocket. Grant was not alone in this view – the Poor Man’s Guardian claimed that compensation would be ‘extracted from the bones of the white slaves’ in Britain[1].  Grant’s prints were aimed at the socially and politically conscious working classes. In the image ‘John Bull’ speaks for working people but they are not represented pictorially. This is an interesting absence – with no parliamentary political representation at the time the image suggests that they could only achieve a political voice by proxy. It also demonstrates the way in which Grant perceived the working poor as being excluded from debates around slavery, freedom and labour conditions.

The largely middle class abolitionist leadership led some radicals to suggest that their concern for the enslaved in the colony led to the neglect of the industrial working poor at home. This form of what was described as ‘telescopic philanthropy’ had also been seized upon by the slave-owners. Radicals like Grant had to tread a fine line between their critique of the abolitionists, their support for emancipation and the language of the anti-abolition West India lobby. Sometimes this failed – the depiction of the enslaved in this image speaks straight to proslavery myth of the infantilised, happy and contented slave for whom freedom would be ‘a curse’.

After nearly fifty years of polarised discussion, the representation of the slave-owner and the abolitionist reflects a frustration with both the greed and gluttony of the former and the sanctimonious piety of the latter. The opulent flesh of the planter becomes a symbol for the unfettered indulgence and idleness of plantation life whilst the pinched frame and clerical garb of the abolitionist signifies the unceasing virtuous self-restraint of the morally puritanical Evangelical ‘Saints’, who alongside their campaign for abolition had also launched a reformation on the manners of the working classes.

The slave-owner stretches out his hand expectantly waiting for the government to bail him out; the knowing gesture an indication of the long-standing relationship between big sugar in the Caribbean and the government at home. The slave-owners argued that they had invested in ‘property in men’ under a system which was sanctioned and regulated by the government. By ending slavery the government was effectively confiscating their legitimate property and they were therefore entitled to compensation.

The abolitionists were divided over the issue of compensation. Some of them contested the principle that there could ever be ‘property in men’ and in doing so attempted to undermine the central tenet of slave compensation. However, at a time when property was held as sacred, some of them agreed that compensation should be paid. They suggested that as the nation as a whole had benefitted from slavery, then everyone should pay for salvation from what they described as the ‘national sin’. It was thought that paying the price of emancipation would expunge the stain of slavery replacing it instead with the image of an anti-slavery nation – liberal, benevolent and freedom loving.

Compensation for the enslaved was never seriously debated in 1833 and indeed by being forced to work for free for a further five years of apprenticeship – until 1838 – the enslaved effectively paid in part towards their own emancipation. At the ending of slavery there was no land redistribution and wealth remained in the hands of a small elite. The deeply divisive issue of reparations for slavery is one that has been raised with most nation states who were involved in the slavery business. No former slaving nation has as of yet paid any compensation to the descendants of those who endured Transatlantic slavery although it was declared a crime against humanity in 2001.

Have your say…

  • Should the British government pay reparations?
  • How would the process work?
  • Who would the reparations be given to?

Further reading:

  • Exhibition Catalogue: C.J. Grant’s ‘Political Drama’, a radical satirist rediscovered, ed. Richard Pound (UCL, 1998).
  • Nicholas Draper, The Price of Emancipation: Slave-Ownership, Compensation and British Society at the End of Slavery (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
  • http://www.jis.gov.jm/special_sections/reparations/ Government website looking at the reparations debate in Jamaica.

[1] Poor Man’s Guardian, 6 July 1833.

Art Not Words: Female Figure Standing, 1913

By Gemma Angel, on 13 August 2012

Lisa Plotkinby Lisa Plotkin






1913 was an interesting year for British women. Militant suffragette violence had reached an all-time high, with dozens of women sent to prison each week in the name of female suffrage. The deeds of the suffragettes became more and more outrageous as time went on, with many smashing windows, setting fires, attacking members of parliament, and just generally causing havoc by doing things that women simply were not supposed to do. Under their militant slogan “deeds not words!” thousands of women joined the cause.

By 1913 women were doing and not just saying. They may not have had political representation, but they were making political news. They were heavily involved in local politics; they were nurses in larger numbers and doctors in fewer; they were teachers and factory workers; reformers at home and missionaries abroad. In short, they were as diverse in occupation then as women are now. And they were also artists.

Thia was a fact that UCL’s Art Museum left me no doubt of during their most recent exhibition, in which work from the affiliated Slade School of Art was showcased. Founded in 1871, the Slade School followed UCL’s proud tradition of gender equality and admitted men and women on equal footing, seven years before the University of London allowed women to take examinations.

In 1913 women’s output was limited, constrained by legislative factors and social mores. But in 1913 their artistic output from the Slade was nothing short of astonishing, both in quantity and quality. The featured artists in the recent UCL Art Museum exhibition were tasked with taking historical pieces from the UCL collections, and producing works that somehow comments or speaks to the earlier works.

The two easels grabbed my eye immediately – in fact for me they were really central to the whole exhibition. As you can see from the image below – the piece (by current Slade student Laura Kuch) features two almost completely identical paintings of the backs of nude women. Kuch positioned them as though they were facing back-to-back – their double always invisible – but standing just behind them.

Laura Kuch, Dopplegängers, 2012. Two wooden easels, Dora Carrington, Female Figure Standing, 1913 (framed), Fanny J Fletcher, Female Figure Standing, 1913. © Laura Kuch. Installation shot photographed by Mary Hinkley, UCL Media Services.

But Kuch herself was not the painter of these two works; she discovered them tucked away in UCL storage. This surprised Kuch. Why were there two identical paintings, both labeled “Female Figure Standing, 1913” and why were they attributed to two different artists?

It was later discovered that the two artists, both women students at the Slade in 1913, painted this female figure standing as part of a competition. These two paintings were the first and second place winners. As an historian of Victorian and Edwardian Britain, these two female nudes speak to me. Women artists painted this woman 99 years ago. They competed in a university competition 99 years ago. A woman took off her clothes for a group of artists 99 years ago. Those are all statements about the status of women 99 years ago. It might seem divorced from the larger Woman Question of the time, but it wasn’t.

The great, late poet author Adrienne Rich once wrote: “We are not the Woman Question asked by somebody else; we are the women who ask the questions.”[1] The women artists of the Slade from the 1870s until today posed their questions and stated their answers, through art. Not deeds, not words, but art. And now almost one hundred years later we still get to enjoy it.


[1] Adrienne Rich, “Notes Towards a Politics of Location” in in Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, 1979–1985 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1986).

A Room With A View? Asylum Art in the 19th Century

By Gemma Angel, on 6 August 2012

by Sarah Chaney


“A room without pictures is as bad as a room without windows.”



So wrote a newspaper reporter in the Dumfries Herald in 1881, when commenting approvingly on the therapeutic environment of the Crichton Royal Institution and Southern Counties Asylum in Dumfries. Like many other psychiatric hospitals of the period, the galleries of this institution were indeed heavily decorated. Domestic furnishings, pictures, birdcages, plants and drapes were all intended to contribute to a domestic appearance, thought to be both comforting and morally and spiritually uplifting. Indeed, the domestic environment of the asylum was often interpreted as directly curative. The annual reports of many asylum medical superintendents frequently focused on improvements to facilities, with very little information that we might regard as directly medical, such as physical and pharmaceutical intervention.

But what pictures were displayed? Art was often donated by benefactors, meaning there was little choice as to what could actually be shown in the Hospital. Sometimes this might lead to what seem, today, to be surprising displays. Art historian Nicholas Tromans has identified one of the pictures in images of wards at the Bethlem Royal Hospital as an engraving after Landseer’s Otter Hunt. As he points out, today the work is considered too distressing to exhibit, making it seem a picture that we might not imagine to have had a particularly calming or uplifting influence on patients! Another hunting image in Landseer’s work, from the collections of the UCL Art Museum, is shown below. On other occasions, art might be commissioned by the governors of a Hospital. The theatre at the exclusive Normansfield Hospital, set up by John Langdon Down in 1868 for young people with learning disabilities, was partially painted by Marianne North. The walls are also adorned with sets from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore at the Savoy Theatre, presumably bought at auction in the early 1890s.

Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) – His Master’s Dog (UCL Art Museum)

 Doctors also often regarded themselves as artists. Medical obituaries of the late nineteenth century regularly highlighted the various creative pursuits of psychiatrists, seen as an important indication of their intellectual status as Victorian gentlemen. Participation in musical and dramatic performances was expected of all asylum staff, including the low-paid ward attendants. Indeed, when one attendant walked out of a band practice session at the Crichton Royal Institution in Dumfries in December 1880, he was told by the superintendent to “choose whether to be obedient, contented and loyal or leave the place”. He selected the latter, and left that same evening. Theo Hyslop, superintendent of Bethlem Royal Hospital from 1898 to 1911, was a keen artist, who exhibited at the Royal Academy and later became a controversial art critic.

Hyslop also seems to have encouraged his patients to paint, and organised a public exhibition of some of this art at Bethlem in 1900. Indeed, in many asylums, some of the art on display was certainly created by patients. Sometimes, artists happened to be resident within the institution. Richard Dadd, for example, created most of his famous works while an inmate of Bethlem and, later, Broadmoor. The un-schooled James Henry Pullen, known as the “genius of Earlswood Asylum”, apparently caught the interest of Edwin Landseer, who sent the young man some of his paintings to copy: another connection between Landseer’s work and the asylum. Other patients may have practised decorative work. In 1883, the superintendent of Bethlem reported that “during the past year we have been engaged in painting artistically one of the male infirmaries, and although it has been somewhat difficult to get a sufficient number of the patients occupied, yet, on the whole the result has been satisfactory, we have had not only kindly assistance from ladies, who have no connection with Bethlem, but we have had several patients among the ladies who have developed quite a taste for the work, and next year I hope to carry this decorative work into several of the other wards.” The following year it was recorded that female patients had been engaged in the painting of a dormitory: such decorative work can be seen in the photograph below.

Dormitory at Bethlem in early twentieth century (Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives & Museum)

As Savage’s words indicate, painting was considered an occupational pursuit: something that would relieve the tedium of asylum life and distract patients from the “morbid introspection” that many doctors blamed for the onset and prolongation of insanity. Imagination and creativity, however, were also considered to be important elements of the human psyche by many asylum practitioners of the period, traits which separated humans from animals and thus aided the “degraded” asylum patient towards mental health. Art in the asylum thus served multiple functions, something that continues to this day through such organisations as the Bethlem Gallery and Museum and the Langdon Down Museum.