Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Royal Edinburgh Hospital is two hundred years old

In July this year the Royal Edinburgh Hospital (REH) will be two hundred years old. Its bicentenary is marked by an ongoing series of events and lectures that highlight its history.

To trace the contributing factors which led to the creation of the REH, we have to go back to
a particularly tragic incident in 1774.

At twenty-four, Robert Fergusson was already a much admired and established poet whose brilliance thrilled the crowds in pubs around Edinburgh, the ‘Auld Reikie’ of his poem. 

Today his statue outside the Canongate church still entertains as it appears to be hurrying past visitors to the Royal Mile. 

Already prone to bouts of ‘melancholia’, his condition worsened after a head injury incurred in a fall. 

Soon it became too difficult for his mother to look after him. If Fergusson’s family had been well off he would have been sent to a private institution at great expense. But for ‘paupers’ the only option was the Bedlam asylum where treatment was non- existent and restraint prevailed.  

Fergusson’s health deteriorated fast and he died two months later. The circumstances of his death had a lasting effect on his friends and followers such as Robert Burns who publicly acknowledged his influence. 

One of Fergusson’s friends was Dr Andrew Duncan who visited him in Bedlam. Duncan was so outraged by what he saw that he resolved to improve the conditions of so-called ‘lunatics’.
He set about to raise support and funding for the creation of a humane asylum but despite his efforts and the prominence of his position - he was President of the Royal College of Physicians for a number of years - progress was very slow. But he did not give up although it took eighteen years to appoint trustees and another fifteen for a Royal Charter to be granted to him by George III. Finally sufficient funds were secured and in July 1813, thirty nine years after Duncan conceived his plan, the ‘Edinburgh Lunatic Asylum’ opened its doors to its first fee-paying patients in the village of Morningside south of Edinburgh. Provision for non-paying patients would have to wait longer still until the 1840s. 

These beginnings seem very modest by today's expectations but they were ground breaking at the time and greatly influential in shifting the perception of mental disorders from crimes to illnesses.

Other pioneers were emerging in England 
and Europe, for instance William Tuke in 
Yorkshire and Philippe Pinel in France, 
who advocated replacing chains with 
humanity and compassion in the care of 
the so-called insane. 

So inspirational were Pinel's ethics to the 
inaugural Board of Management of the 
hospital that a plaque portraying him as a 
younger man was embedded in the fabric of 
the building as well as his bust as an older
man to commemorate the centenary of his 
death. From this high viewpoint he can still 
oversee the hospital's comings and goings. 

During the nineteenth century, two long-serving hospital superintendents were highly influential in asserting the reputation for innovation of the REH. Dr William Mackinnon believed that patients should be kept busy and that their work should reflect the skills they had before coming to the asylum, tailoring, weaving and gardening for example.  We now recognise in these principles the basis of modern Occupational Therapy.  

Mackinnon House garden created and maintained by patients
Lothian Health Services Archive collection

Dr Thomas Clouston raised the standard of hospital attendants by improving their pay and education. He also modernised the existing hospital units and expanded them by pushing for the purchase of neighbouring land.

Nursing staff in hospital corridor, late 19c
Lothian Health Services Archive collection

The memory of these and other pioneers is kept alive today with the preservation and display of their painted portraits and commemoration plaques and with the naming of buildings and wards around the hospital. There is something heartening about the thought that the principles of the Enlightenment that started it all can still inspire the future generations of carers and practitioners two hundred years later.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh

With many thanks to
Tom Arnott, REH Operations Manager, who took the time to give me a guided tour of the hospital and brought its history to life
Lothian Health Services Archives (LHSA) for providing digital documentation. 
The LHSA have launched a Royal Edinburgh Hospital Appeal for photos, letters and any other documents ranging from the 18th century to the present day

For details of the remaining lectures in the Bicentenary series:

Reference articles
on Robert Fergusson  http://www.edinburghliterarypubtour.co.uk/makars/fergus/fergusson.pdf 
on Bedlams, William Tuke and Philippe Pinel http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/people/~/~/link.aspx?_id=4A14D38C7A9D4911BFF3189417B56EE1&_z=z
on the Royal Edinburgh Hospital 
'History of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital' by Alexis R. Easson, typescript c.1970, courtesy of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital

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The next 'Artist Uncovered' blog
will be on Adrian Wiszniewski

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Artist Uncovered: Barbara Rae

This month our tour of the Art in Healthcare gallery focuses on Royal Academician painter and printmaker, Barbara Rae. The four works in the Art in Healthcare collection illustrate some of the media and techniques used by the artist: printmaking, paint and collage. 

Mull Ferry  watercolour  105x88cm  1996
Art in Healthcare collection

Her creative process always begins with creating studies on location whatever the weather. She is currently away somewhere “on the west coast of Ireland, sketching near the ocean’s cliffs in wild weather” her spokesperson tells me.  But Barbara Rae is not interested in topographical features and rejects emphatically the label ‘landscape painter’. What she seeks out are the signs that show the passing of time and the craft of humankind that give pattern and structure to the landscape, as she explains:
"It's the historic aspect fashioned by mankind, whittled away by use and weather that fascinates, the outline of an ancient farm building half-hidden in dense grass, a portal, wooden door once used now broken, paint flaking, a standing stone engraving barely visible clad in moss. I take time, sometimes weeks to absorb, you might say "experience" an area and meet the people there before I begin work." (March 2013)

Walled Garden, Culzean mixed media, collage  81x107cm 1979  
Art in Healthcare collection  

She logs her observations in beautiful and detailed studies, many of which can be viewed on her website.
Back to her studio, sometimes the process of transformation begins with the translation of her studies into print. Rae has been using printing to experiment with the image and with colours since her undergraduate days at Edinburgh College of Art. She uses her studies only as guides and does not aim to reproduce them in the finished artworks. Monotypes worked in the studio explore the original study, key variations forming the basis of future paintings.

Ballachulish I  monotype 87x70cm1985
Art in Healthcare collection

Barbara Rae is always challenging her painterly process through controlled layering of significant collage material and washes and through her search for inspiration which takes her to the margins of Europe, Africa or the United States. The sombre palette acquired during her formative years in Scotland changed completely during a trip to New Mexico in 1985 where the clear light revealed the intense colours that have recurred in her work ever since.

Spanish Window  lithograph 99x72cm 1992
Art in Healthcare collection

She often revisits the same locations and when I enquired if her trips followed a cyclical pattern, she replied:
“Now and then I return to old haunts because I know things will have altered. Paso del tiempo - time passes. Aspects of the historical artifact that first caught my attention can change radically, or in different light in a different season cause me to notice something new on it or around it.” (March 2013)

Time is as much a feature of Barbara Rae’s practice as the locations that inspire her. There is the time she spends researching and recording the alterations brought about by man and the passage of time. This slow cumulative pace is then punctured by the release of creative energy and the cathartic rituals of her painting process, itself a race against time. And let’s not forget that her paintings themselves reveal many archival layers that we, the viewers, can savour at a leisurely pace.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance visual artist and writer based in Edinburgh

Don't miss out on any of our forthcoming blog posts. Subscribe by email address at the "Follow us by Email" above right and receive notifications when we make a new entry.

The next blog will be a whirlwind look
at the history of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital
to mark its bicentenary


With thanks to Barbara Rae for her comments.

‘”It’s chance, but it’s controlled chance”: An Interview with Barbara Rae’ by Andrew Lambirth, in Barbara Rae, published by Lund Humphries in 2008.


Barbara Rae  http://www.barbararae.com/ 

Royal Academy of Arts http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/