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Book Review: The Healing Presence of Art: A History of Western Art in Hospitals Print E-mail
The Quarterly 2012

Dr Robert GroganI would like to draw the attention of readers of The Quarterly to this sumptuous volume.

Richard Cork is an art critic, broadcaster and curator, who has been the Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge, and has recently been appointed as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy.

Cork states in his Introduction that he originally intended to write a book about the use of contemporary art in hospitals, but during his preliminary research he became aware of the wealth of paintings and sculptures that could be found in the hospitals of London. His subsequent explorations found outstanding works in Western Europe, the Middle East and America.

These works that stretch from the Renaissance to the twentieth century encompass large architectural projects paintings, as well as portraits, frescos, ceramics, bronzes, and stained glass. The artists whose works are represented include Rembrandt, Goya, Hogarth, van Gogh, Kahlo and Chagall.

This book is more than 'art in hospitals', 'art and medicine' and 'art as therapy'. During the course of the book, Cork explores the use of art in hospitals in terms of decoration, spiritual comfort and admonition, cure, as an act of compassion or gratitude, an outlet for mental anguish, and as a means of raising funds.

Many associated with the College will have worked through times when hospitals were places of cure, to now where they are more seen as places of healing. As Cork notes, 'current day attempts to humanise hospitals belong to a rich, complex and largely overlooked tradition'.

Although there are no references to Australia, this book should appeal to those who appreciate the fine arts, as well as those who are responsible for the design and layout of hospitals.

Dr Robert Grogan
FRACMA