7 March 2016

A Story of Medicine Told in the Home of General Practice

The NHS is a British institution, universally loved amongst patients and globally coveted - and general practice is its lifeblood with 90% of patient contacts in the health service being made by GPs and their teams.

The RCGP is celebrating this by opening its recently-renovated Grade II* listed building to tell a story of medicine through the eyes of some of Britain’s, and the world's, most famous and visionary artists including Barbara Hepworth, Elisabeth Frink and Eduardo Paolozzi.

Twenty-four objects – some never before shown in London – have been generously loaned by art collector Chris Ingram of The Ingram Collection, one of the UK’s largest and most significant collections of modern British art.

Health and the Body takes a multi-faceted look at the human form; from the outside in our stunning headline piece Riace Figure III by Elisabeth Frink; from inside, as in Eduardo Paolozzi’s Au Telephon; in individual parts - the Head, for example, encased in bronze by Geoffrey Clarke; and by our workings - the organs themselves - as per Bernard Meadows' Armed Bust: Two Eyes.

But the body is simply the physical embodiment of health. Our exhibition is also a vessel to see the changing nature of general practice, the NHS and the evolving public health threats to patients over time.

The Tempest by BP Portrait Award winner Aleah Chapin, the only piece of American art in Ingram’s entire collection, is a celebration of ageing but also a commentary on the greatest challenge facing general practice, and our health service as a whole - our growing and ageing population, with more and more people living with multiple, chronic diseases, both physical and mental.

Art has been shown as an effective therapy for mental health as a way of facilitating mindfulness, and Lucy Jones’ self-reflective piece A Handful of Tears is an important reminder of the need to ensure that patients with mental health problems are given the same parity of esteem as those with physical conditions.

Another category of mental health problems – eating disorders anorexia and bulimia – and their polar opposite, obesity, is explored by Leonard Rosoman’s Fattipuffs and Thinnifers. Obesity is a chronic condition affecting two in three adults and a quarter of children aged 2-10, and can lead to a number of serious, debilitating conditions, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

What can be done to reverse this trend is a dilemma GPs face on a daily basis. William Roberts captures what to, and what not to do, in two paintings; the first The Swimming Bath illustrating physical exercise; and the second Saturday Night (at the local), a painting pre-dating the 2007 smoking ban, depicting people smoking and drinking alcohol in a Camden pub.

And whilst GPs face new challenges, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s Maternity tells a story of general practice past and the role of GP as midwife. Conceived in 1913 when it was not uncommon for GPs to deliver entire families of babies at home, this is something predominantly happening in hospital.

Dr Terry Kemple, President of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Health and the Body tells a story of medicine through the eyes through artists, but it also casts the looking glass back, giving a snapshot of the artists' own health at time of creation.

“Barbara Hepworth's drawings of surgery - two of around 80 she created between 1947-1949 - ties to the time of the hospitalisation of her own daughter, whilst John Bellany’s Self Portrait in Hospital was painted hours after receiving a liver transplant. Michael Ayrton too, casts bronze sculptures examining the physical capabilities and limitations of the human body, paradoxical to his own limited and deteriorating health at the time.

“We want visitors to this exhibition to consider how the objects represent the diversity of medicine and some of what our profession is about - the body, its health, and general practice. We thank Chris Ingram for allowing us to share this story of medicine in the home of general practice.”

Chris Ingram of The Ingram Collection, said: “I’m absolutely delighted to be loaning these pieces to the Royal College of General Practitioners. 30 Euston Square is a stunning location, which can only enhance the art on display. The RCGPs pre-occupation with health made this a wonderful opportunity for us to showcase one of the strongest aspects of the collection – the human body – where we have over 70 pieces.”

Further Information

Health and the Body: The Ingram Collection at the RCGP is now open to the public at 30 Euston Square, NW1 2FB

Photos of the exhibition for use by the media are available on request.

For more information about Health and the Body follow the exhibition on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574/7575/7581
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659


The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 50,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.