Discovering the art of the insane : Three Scottish asylum artists


Queen Margaret Hospital, Whitefield Road, Dunfermline KY12 0SU, Fife, Scotland


This paper describes the work of three patients whose work has recently been 'discovered' in the archives of Scottish asylums. It begins by a sketch of how the work of asylum inmates has come to be regarded as of artistic value - a process that John MacGregor has called the 'discovery of the art of the insane'. It considers the contributions of W.A.F. Browne, Lombroso, Prinzhorn and Dubuffet. The art of the insane attracts several disciplines, such as artists, historians and psychiatrists, and each brings a different perspective to the subject.

The paper considers the career of Andrew Kennedy, who was a patient in the Glasgow and Dumfries Asylums during the second half of the nineteenth century. Although his work was viewed with amused disdain by his Asylum doctors, it is now considered to be a fine example of 'Outsider Art'. A brief examination of his surviving output follows.

The second patient-artist is John G., who spent time in American as well as Scottish Asylums during the early part of this century. His pictures portray his view of his Asylum treatment and his doctors. He also wrote about his experiences and it is possible to compare how he expressed himself in different media.

The third artist is William Bartholomew, who was a patient at the Edinburgh and Dumfries Asylums in the mid-nineteenth century. He was commissioned by W.A.F. Browne to compose pictures of his fellow-inmates, which were used to illustrate the different faces of madness. Bartholomew also drew his own private pictures, which reveal his complex inner world.

The paper makes use of numerous slides to convey the diversity of work produced by Asylum inmates.


Panel 1C   (Images and Metaphors)
Tuesday, 14 September 1999

The Neurosciences and Psychiatry: Crossing the Boundaries

Joint Congress of the European Association for the History of Psychiatry (EAHP), the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN), and the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, 13-18 September 1999