Monday, 20 July 2009
"Exquisite Bodies: or the Curious and Grotesque History of the Anatomical Model" @ Wellcome Foundation, London July 30 to October 18 2009
The above is a head exhibiting syphilis, c.1900, Collection Family Coolen, Antwerp/Museum Dr Guislain, Ghent, Belgium which will be displayed a the above exhibition.
A theme which runs through Lowry's work is his fear of contracting syphilis. This has been commented on by his biographers Gordon Bowker and Douglas Day. However, I don't propose to speculate on the reasons why Lowry had this fear because I feel Day and Bowker have covered this area in detail.
I am more interested in finding out information on various aspects of this fear such as Lowry's visit to the Liverpool Museum Of Anatomy which may have prompted this fear. I have been researching the former museum in 29 Paradise Street in Liverpool. I have manged to obtain a catalogue to the Museum and this will be displayed at the Lowry Festival later this year. I also intend sharing my research during the Festival as part of a lecture I will be giving on Lowry's Liverpool.
I came across the Morbid Anatomy website as part of my research into Anatomy Museums. The blog has just announced a major exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London which will display exhibits which formed a major part of Anatomy Museums. This is a unique opportunity to see the kinds of exhibits that Lowry may have witnessed in the Liverpool Anatomy Exhibition and which made such a profound impression on him.
Here's more about the exhibition and the phenomenon of popular medical displays, from the Wellcome Collection press release:
In the 19th century, despite the best efforts of body snatchers, the demand from medical schools for fresh cadavers far outstripped the supply. One solution to this gruesome problem came in the form of lifelike wax models. These models often took the form of alluring female figures that could be stripped and split into different sections. Other models were more macabre, showing the body ravaged by 'social diseases' such as venereal disease, tuberculosis and alcohol and drug addiction.
With their capacity to titillate as well as educate, anatomical models became sought-after curiosities; displayed not only in dissecting rooms but also in sideshows and the curiosity cabinets of wealthy Victorian gentlemen. For a small admission fee, visitors seeking an unusual afternoon's entertainment could visit displays of these strange dolls in London, Paris, Brussels and Barcelona.
You can find more details of the exhibition on the Wellcome Collection website.
I have been greatly helped in my research by A W Bates, PhD, MD, Department of Histopathology, Royal Free Hospital, London. You can read one of his articles about Anatomy Museums at Medical History.