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West End Extra - by ROSIN GADELRAB
Published: 4 May 2007

One of the paintings in situ in the hospital lobby
Hospital to put historic paintings on the market

Decision ‘reflects NHS chiefs’ ignorance of culture and tradition’

FOUR historic paintings donated to Middlesex Hospital could be sold to private collectors because they are too big to accommodate in public collections.
The decision by University College London Hospitals (UCLH) Trust to sell symbolist Frederick Cayley Robinson’s Acts of Mercy oil paintings, estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, has angered doctors, residents and art lovers.
The paintings of wartime nurses were given to the hospital during World War I by arts patron Sir Edmund Davis.
Now that the Fitzrovia hospital has been sold for redevelopment as flats, shops and offices, they have been offered to museums and galleries, including the National War Museum and the Tate, but none has room for them.
The artist, who trained at St John’s Wood School of Art, died of influenza in a Kensington nursing home seven years after completing the last of the paintings in 1920.
They were considered so important to the Mortimer Street hospital that, when it was rebuilt in the 1930s, a lobby was created to display the 2m x 3.5m works.
Auctioneer Christie’s is handling the sale of the paintings but is unable to confirm they will go to public auction.
This has raised fears that they could be sold privately.
Max Neufeld, chairman of Charlotte Street Residents’ Association, said: “To cart them off somewhere is very damaging, especially if they end up locked in a private collection. They have a local connection.
“The hospital has still more buildings to redevelop. I don’t accept they couldn’t have gone in the new hospital. I don’t see why they couldn’t design a space for them. The issue of local history and memory is important.”
John Smith, a consultant histopathologist at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, in Sheffield, has written in the British Medical Journal: “As a graduate of Middlesex Hospital Medical School I was saddened and distressed to read that the famous Cayley Robinson paintings are to be sold on the open market and not rightly preserved in the UK, a sad reflection on contemporary health service management, focused solely on targets and finance, and ignorant of culture, tradition and history.”
Bloomsbury Tory councillor and gallery owner Rebecca Hossack said: “Cayley Robinson is one of those artists in the process of being rediscovered. He will be back in fashion.”
She said the paintings had been offered to Candy and Candy, which is redeveloping the hospital, but it did not want them. Cllr Hossack added: “It did seem a shame they were to be lost to the community because they were given to the hospital. However, the hospital has looked into every possible place to put them.
“It’s just horrid when patrimony goes but they are going to put the money into community art projects. It’s the best solution. At least they won’t be locked in a vault.”
A UCLH spokesman said: “The decision to sell the paintings was taken by the trust board of directors in accordance with the UCLH arts acquisitions and disposal policy.
“This allows for pieces of art to disposed of when they cannot be adequately or realistically cared for within the trust.
“Following the sale of the Middlesex Hospital there was nowhere suitable within the trust for the paintings – which are a considerable size – to be relocated.
“Also, the cost of maintaining the paintings was taken into account. Re-framing them would alone have run into tens of thousands of pounds. There were no legal issues surrounding the sale of the paintings, which belonged to UCLH.”

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