Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Foundling Museum exhibition - The Generous Georgian

News of a major exhibition at the Foundling Museum in London (www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk):

The Generous Georgian: Dr Richard Mead
26 September 2014 -4 January 2015

The story of an eminent physician and patron of the arts who helped create the Foundling Hospital

For the last major exhibition of the Foundling Museum’s 10th anniversary year, the focus turns to the life and work of Dr Richard Mead (1673-1754), one of the most eminent physicians, patrons, collectors and philanthropists of his day, and a significant figure in the early history of the Foundling Hospital.

A leading expert on poisons, scurvy, smallpox and public health, Mead’s patients included Queen Anne, George II, Sir Isaac Newton and the painter Antoine Watteau. Mead was no stranger to daring acts and fierce controversies, with stories of drinking snake venom in his investigations into the effects of various poisons, and fighting a duel to defend his theory on smallpox treatment. He also possessed a deep-seated passion for the arts, demonstrated in a lifetime’s patronage of painters such as Allan Ramsay and a revered collection of masterpieces that included works by Dürer, Holbein, Rembrandt, Poussin and Canaletto.

Smallpox was endemic in Georgian England, and killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans throughout the eighteenth century. Though vaccination against smallpox was developed by Edward Jenner at the end of the century, inoculation was promoted decades earlier. Dr Mead was an ardent and effective advocate of this procedure, which saved the lives of many, including foundlings. Of the 247 children who were inoculated at the Foundling Hospital, by 1756 only one had died of the disease.

Exploring Mead’s diverse contributions to Georgian society - the collector, the philanthropist and the physician - this exhibition reunites key objects from Mead’s life and collection, such as the ancient bronze Arundel Head (2nd Century BC) and Allan Ramsay’s half-length portrait of Mead (above), evidence of his significance in London’s cultural landscape.

Items from the Foundling Museum archive, such as the minutes from the very first Governors’ meeting, and the logs of daily life at the Foundling Hospital in the first year, are also on display to illustrate Mead’s relationship with the Hospital and the important role he played in its early history. Mead dedicated considerable time and energy to the Hospital, encouraging his noble clients to support the charity, serving as a Governor and giving his clinical expertise pro bono. His contribution went even further, to attending sick children and advising on nurses’ salaries and what medicines to keep in stock.

Mead’s home on Great Ormond Street backed onto the Foundling Hospital grounds, and housed his magnificent collection of paintings, sculptures, antiquities, coins and a library of over 10,000 books. Painters and scholars were given access to Mead’s renowned collection which, in a time before public galleries, offered visitors a rare chance to view artistic masterpieces from around the world.

Mead’s generosity in every aspect of his life meant his family were burdened with huge debts following his death. Perhaps anticipating this, Mead’s will ordered for the sale of thousands of objects from his incredible collection - in an auction lasting 56 days! Through a number of key objects, we highlight a once-legendary collection which, compared to that of his contemporary and founder of the British Museum, Sir Hans Sloane, is not so well known today.

This exhibition celebrates the energy, learning and wide interests of a truly generous Georgian who, according to his contemporary the writer Samuel Johnson, “lived more in the broad sunshine of life than almost any man”.

The Generous Georgian: Dr Richard Mead is supported by the Wellcome Trust, the City of London Corporation, Royal College of Physicians and Verita.

(With thanks to the Foundling Museum)


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And please consider purchasing the great new version of Caledonia by The Libations at 79p via www.caledonia2014.com - all profits go to help fund Scottish foodbanks

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