This site makes use of cookies to help improve our understanding of how you use the site.

Art, power, and the asylum: Adamson, healing, and the Collection

27 April 2018

Editor of The Lancet Psychiatry Niall Boyce is joined by David O'Flynn, Solomon Szekir-Papasavva, and Chloe Trainor to discuss this new essay on The Adamson Collection...


Edward Adamson (1911–96) was a British artist, instrumental in the post­war reiteration of art and mental health. He was the first artist to be employed by the National Health Service in 1948, pioneering the art studio and art therapy with his collaborator John Timlin (born 1930).

In the 1960s, Adamson was the first chair of the British Association of Art Therapists, and started the first art therapy training course in the UK. In the past 8 years, his work at Netherne long­stay mental hospital has been rediscovered and re­evaluated.

A body of artworks created in Adamson’s studios by those compelled to live at Netherne, the Adamson Collection, has emerged as one of Britain’s important collections of asylum art.

The history of the Collection

Out of the crowded asylums of Europe in the early 1920s, the optimism of their creation lost, there emerged a new gaze on art. Not a school or an avant-garde movement, but rather a point of view that has extended the territory of what is art as much as Marcel Duchamp's gesture of putting a signed urinal in an art gallery (Fountain, 1917). 

In 1921, the psychiatrist Walter Morgenthaler wrote A Psychiatric Patient as Artist on the work of Swiss asylum patient Adolf Wölfli, and, in 1922, Hans Prinzhorn published The Artistry of the Mentally Insane, a study of “ten schizophrenic masters” (Prinzhorn was an art historian before he became a psychiatrist)...

...To continue reading this essay or to listen to the podcast please click here


To learn more about the Adamson Collection at the Wellcome Collection please click here

To learn more about the Adamson Collection Trust please click here