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On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the NHS, which came into being on 5th July 1948, take a look at the art collection of St George’s Hospital in south London.

St George’s Hospital was established at Lanesborough House, Hyde Park Corner, in 1733 and has acquired paintings of the building and of eminent physicians throughout its history. The most celebrated was John Hunter, appointed in 1768 at the age of 40. His portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds hangs in the Royal College of Surgeons, but the hospital owns a bronze bust of Hunter, as well as one of Edward Jenner, the pioneer of the smallpox vaccine. 

Bust of John Hunter (1728–1793)

Bust of John Hunter (1728–1793)

bronze by Sir Alfred Gilbert (1854–1934)

In the 1970s work began on relocating the hospital. In 1976, the Medical School opened at Tooting and the hospital at Hyde Park Corner closed in 1980 (the old building is now the Lanesborough Hotel). The largest of all of the paintings of the hospital at Hyde Park Corner was commissioned from Edward Bawden (1903–1989) for the current premises at Tooting in south London.

The role of the collection has since changed and we now collect artworks by contemporary artists. The current art collection is constantly increasing and consists of nearly 900 artworks by leading modern and contemporary British artists including Helen Chadwick, Albert Irvin, Richard Long, Michael Finch and John Bellany. It still retains a small number of historic works and we continue to acquire work by established artists.

St George's

St George's

by Albert Irvin (1922–2015)

Since the early 1990s, Arts St George’s has managed the St George’s Hospital Charity art collection housed at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Our objective is to continue to work with creative partners to ensure that high-quality art and engaging arts programmes are developed to enhance the well-being of patients and to disseminate the work of the St George’s Hospital Charity locally, nationally and internationally. Our ethos is that creativity and access to art can make a vital contribution to the health and well-being of patients and staff. Our remit is:

• to promote a therapeutic and healing environment by bringing art and live events to patient, public and staff spaces
• to conserve, develop, record and curate the art collection for the benefit of patients, staff and the local community
• to develop an innovative, participatory programme of arts, both visual and performing, for people of all ages and staff
• to develop strong evidence-based reporting methodology that shows the impact of the programme on patients’ well-being
• to hold events with the aim of raising money for the hospital charity

The art collection is displayed in public areas and wards across the site of one of the largest teaching hospitals in London, which has 12,000 visitors per week and 9,000 staff. Collection management procedural documents are in place which enables the St George’s Charity Collection to work towards museum and gallery Spectrum standards. I work closely with the Trust to ensure that innovative design and artwork are incorporated into wards, units and public spaces. Arts St George’s continually strives to increase the art collection by donations, sales from exhibitions and purchases. One of our most recent donations was from artist Chris Wood – a spectacular dichromatic glass work entitled Opt which is currently situated in the hospital Spiritual Care Centre.

Opt

Opt

by Chris Wood

Currently, we are running research with renal patients from our arts programme and I will write reports about the effects of art-related activities on the patients.

Overall, we aim to improve the atmosphere and deinstitutionalise patients' surroundings by placing artwork in as many areas as possible. We also believe that art is a catalyst for healing and our arts programmes help people who are in hospital for long periods of time. On the 70th anniversary of the founding of the NHS, it seems to be a good time to look back and reflect on how art can help us to heal.

Joanna Wakefield, Art Director at the St George's Hospital Charity

On 5th July 2018, in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the NHS, staff from St George’s will be walking from the old site of St George’s on Hyde Park Corner to St George's current home in Tooting, south London, in order to raise money for the hospital charity.