Art exhibition tells hospital's story

A massive cabinet stocked with hundreds of curiosities - including skulls and straightjackets, violins and valentines cards - forms part of a major art exhibition celebrating the life and times of a pioneering psychiatric hospital.

Cabinet exhibiting collection

The 15 metre-long cabinet is the centre piece of an exhibition called 200 Years; 200 Objects, part of Ever/Present/Past, a series of commissions marking the 200th anniversary of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.

It is on at the University's Talbot Rice Gallery until 15 February. (The Gallery is closed between 15 December and 6 January.)

Mark Dion's first show in Scotland

The cabinet full of letters, portraits and ephemera from life at the hospital is American artist Mark Dion’s first solo show in Scotland.

Dion has mixed historical artefacts taken from the NHS Lothian archives as well as objects donated by residents in neighbouring Morningside and presented with new works of art he has made himself. Visitors may not know what came from the hospital’s past and what was created from the Dion’s workshop.

Every object tells a story

Among the 200 objects - one for each year - there are minutes recording the admission of the first patient in 1813; the first unclaimed object in the hospital’s lost and found, a lady’s black glove from 1820; and a ‘tally stick’ from 1851, on which patients would mark on their way out of the hospital to meet ‘special friends’.

There is also a coffin for a robin befriended by patient Mr C from 1852; a Valentine’s card sent to a patient from an anonymous admirer who wanted to stare into his “verdant green eyes” from 1855; and a photo of a ghost which supposedly haunts the grounds, from 1891; and an aversion therapy chair from 1955.

The Royal Edinburgh Hospital

As part of the exhibition there is a miniature portrait of Dr Andrew Duncan, physician to the poet Robert Fergusson, whose work inspired Robert Burns. He was so moved by the early death of Fergusson in Edinburgh’s Bedlam asylum in 1774 he dedicated his life to provide better care for the mentally ill.

The Royal Edinburgh Hospital, which opened as the Edinburgh Lunatic Asylum, was the result. A lock of Fergusson’s hair is attached to the portrait.

New work from Claire Barclay

The second part of Ever/Present/Past is Claire Barclay’s exhibition called Another Kind of Balance. In a tribute to the hospital’s development of therapeutic activities, Barclay has collaborated with three individuals who have received treatment there to create an installation in Talbot Rice’s Georgian Gallery.

Partnership with Artlink

Ever/Present/Past is a series of commissions realised in collaboration with Artlink as part of a year-long programme commemorating the bicentenary of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital funded by Creative Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund.


Open Tuesday to Saturday. Admission is free.

Saturday 16 November 2013, 10.00am

Saturday 15 February 2014, 5.00pm

Talbot Rice Gallery, Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh, EH8 9YL

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