First published: Spring 2015
Bethlem Royal Hospital is one of the world’s oldest hospitals for people with mental health problems. Founded in 1247, it became known as “Bedlam” – a word still synonymous with pandemonium. After relocating several times, in 1930 it found a permanent home in Denmark Hill. Bethlem’s facilities now include its Archives, Gallery and Museum of the Mind, all of whose activities relate to mental health. The Museum’s collection includes objects and artefacts relating to the history of mental illness, as well as spectacular works by previous patient-artists Richard Dadd (1817–1886), William Kurelek (1927–1957), Jonathan Martin (1782–1838, brother of artist John), Louis Wain (1860–1939) and Von Stropp (b. 1962).
Once Dadd was admitted to Bethlem in 1844, a century before any formal concept of art therapy was devised, doctors there recognised that providing a space in which he could continue his work was helpful to his well-being and “settled behaviour”. At Bethlem and Broadmoor, Dadd painted his most well-known work, The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke (1855–64).
Artwork by Albert
The hospital has art studios in different departments. Its Bethlem Art Studios are run by the Occupational Therapy Department, while its Medium Secure Forensic Unit houses another studio, where acclaimed resident artists Albert and Rodney worked. Bethlem Gallery, in Beckenham, Kent, is developed from these studios and serves artists who are currently at the hospital, as well as people who have used South London and Maudsley NHS Trust’s services.
Established in 1997, Bethlem Gallery has gained an international reputation for the originality and talent of the artists whose works it shows. The studios and the gallery foster a supportive, patient-focused environment, and their small, artist-led teams, which manage and facilitate them, provide opportunities for people to develop their practice and experiment with their ideas.