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A new home for art and history at Bethlem Royal Hospital

04.02.15 Categories: Art and mental health, How donations help, News

Thanks to the generosity of donors, an impressive historical archive and gallery have moved to a new space that will allow a much larger range of works to be displayed to the public for free. Bethlem Museum of the Mind and Bethlem Gallery, formerly housed in small, non-descript buildings, officially opened in the spacious deco administration building at Bethlem Royal Hospital on 19 February.

No longer a ‘hidden gem’

Bethlem Archives and Museum began in 1969 and has been managed by registered charity Bethlem Art and History Collections Trust since 1992. The museum houses over 1,000 fascinating artworks and historical artefacts relating to mental illness, and the archives hold the key to the hospital’s history in documents including staff records, correspondence, maps and photographs. 

Victoria Northwood, Head of Archives and Museum, explains why the move to the new building is so important.

‘The Archives and Museum at Bethlem have always been rather a ”hidden gem”, she says. ‘The move to new facilities will be transformative, enabling us to publicise our collections more widely and welcome an increased number of visitors.’

The museum will feature permanent and temporary exhibitions, events and a learning space that will be used to deliver an education programme and for SLaM’s Recovery College to run courses and talks on mental health and well-being. 

Illuminating artworks

Alongside artworks by contemporary services users, visitors can see pieces by former patients of Bethlem. These include works by Victorian painter Richard Dadd, famous for his depictions of fairies and the supernatural; drawings by 20th century artist Louis Wain that feature psychedelic depictions of cats (see painting below); and the intricate painting The Maze created by Canadian artist William Kurelek while he was a patient at the Maudsley in 1953. 

The art deco staircase in the administration building is now flanked by two of the museum’s most famous and striking pieces: the life-size statues of ‘Raving and Melancholy Madness’ that were displayed at the entrance to Bethlem Hospital (then known as Bedlam) from 1676 to 1815.

Bethlem Gallery will also be provided with a new gallery and studio space. Established in 1997, the gallery highlights the importance of art as therapy and features the work of SLaM service users. Both the museum and gallery have gained an international reputation for excellence in the field of arts in health.  Now, with the organisations under one roof, visitors will be able to experience artwork from the historic collection that spans centuries alongside that of current artists involved with SLaM’s services today. All this has been made possible thanks to generous donors.

Thank you to all our supporters

‘We’re thrilled to have opened this pioneering and unique space which brings together a rich collection of history and art,’ says Paul Mitchell, CEO of Maudsley Charity. ‘The museum and gallery project is a perfect example of how charitable donations can help to support and preserve our history and enable us to provide a space that is open and accessible to everyone. 

‘We work hard to break down barriers and challenge stigma in mental health and this project will enable us to work even closer with our local communities and the wider public. The project would not have been possible without the help of a number of large donors and we are especially grateful to South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund who made substantial donations on top of the investment made by the Maudsley Charity.’

Your support enables us to fund projects like this that help people with mental health issues and challenge stigma. Please make a donation today so we can continue our work.

Below: painting by Louis Wain from the collection

cat painting by Louis Wain