The Tavistock Clinic Art Collection

The Tavistock Clinic was founded by a small group of military psychiatrists in the aftermath of World War One, in the hope of using some of the knowledge and expertise learned from the treatment of traumatised war veterans. In 1967 it moved into its own purpose-built premises. This was a utilitarian structure, inevitable in the austerity following the Second World War, a grey concrete slab of a building with metal frame windows and long linoleum corridors.

Yet within the last twenty years, this unpromising-looking building has been transformed by its exuberant and varied art collection.

This collection differs from those possessed by the great London hospitals and Institutions founded centuries ago, in that all of our works are modern. The oldest pieces date back only as far as the 1960s.

Valery Koroshilov The Traveller

Valery Koroshilov  The Traveller

Since 1990, when the collection began, most of the works have been lent by artists, many of whom are local to the Centre's North London site. Some have been willing to let us hang some of their most engaging paintings, for example Jamie Boyd's mysterious Mediterranean landscapes. Perhaps some of these were offered because they are too large for private homes or even for galleries; some in gratitude because the artist or their families had been helped by the Clinic; and some because they supported vigorously the principle of good art in public buildings. One particularly rich haul of first-class work was made possible by the Connaught Brown Gallery's willingness to open up its warehouse, where many remarkable works were stored – thus works by Paul Richards and William MacIlraith are on display. Many of Florence Spencer's outstanding paintings (for example The Red Queen) were stacked in a large cupboard in her flat before they were unearthed by our sharp-eyed founder-curator Caroline Garland.

Annabel Obholzer Inescapable Arrangement

Annable Obholzer – Inescapable Arrangement

Amongst the many works worth visiting are Malcolm Ross-White's startling and witty Big Man;  Amanda Welch's thoughtful and introspective canvases; Annabel Obholzer's imaginative representations of mythical encounters;  Lucinda Oestreicher's cleanly painted abstractions;  and among the younger, newer artists, Austen O'Hanlon, whose paintings offer a dream-like version of ordinary encounters with passers-by. Jamie Boyd's magical-realist Lion in the Bath pleases many of the children, not to mention the adults, who pass by it every week.

Interestingly, we cannot simply hang whatever we are offered. The nature of the Clinic's patient population, many of whom are very troubled, requires us to be thoughtful and sensitive in relation to what is on display. There are no nudes, for instance, although Amanda Welch's Muse contains an abstracted collage of breasts. Mothers devotedly dandling infants, the subject of so many of the world's greatest religious paintings, have had to be excluded: the subject-matter is too painful for many of those who are most deprived. And it is not only patients that may be stirred up. At times members of staff themselves have resisted vigorously the inclusion of certain works. One alarmed department rejected a series of distinguished studies of street markets by Jonathan Miller (2000) on the grounds that the first three letters of the word ARSENAL appeared: did the Tavistock really condone swearing in children? However, Daniel Miller's attractive Elephant House was welcomed with relief and pleasure on all sides. Combing the local galleries for works that were neither too 'bodily', nor too intimate, nor abstract, has been an absorbing occupation for the three Curators who have so far managed the collection. And so far every artist approached has without exception agreed to take part in the Loan Collection.

Carlos De Lins – Centrepoint Building

Carlos De Lins – Centrepoint Building 

In the Tavistock we have a particular approach to the question of why art should be important in public buildings. A psychoanalytical point of view regards a painting that 'works' as an individual's attempt to address the lifelong psychological endeavour of being a thinking, feeling, conflicted, dreaming human being. A good painting presents us with an artist’s own resolution of the universal internal conflict between construction and destruction, through the sequence of destruction, despair, renewed hope and renewed creation that goes into a work of art. It revives in us, the viewers, the hope of achieving our own resolutions to these same universal problems. This is why good paintings are good for us. They put us in touch with the fundamental emotional and intellectual work of being a human being. They remind us, when they are successful, of the existence of our own good internal figures. If the working through of the conflict is successful, and there is a craftsmanlike translation of the phantasy into a work of art, then, as Freud put it,  “[the artist] makes it possible for other people once more to derive consolation and alleviation from their own sources of pleasure in their unconscious which have become inaccessible to them;  he earns their gratitude and admiration and he has thus achieved through his phantasy what originally he had achieved only in his phantasy . . .” 

We have born this in mind throughout in selecting the works we have chosen to hang. We invite you to come and view them and to think about them with us.

Caroline Garland, Founder-Curator, 1990-2003

Alessandra Lemma, Curator, 2004-2009

Karma Percy, Curator, 2009-2015

Louie Oestreicher, Curator, 2015-

Jennifer Camilleri Spaghetti Leg

Jennifer Camilleri – Spaghetti Leg

Art at the Tavistock and Portman

Wander around the hallways of the Tavistock Centre and you will see works of art hanging along every corridor and bold stabs of colour in our...

Query about the collection?

Contact art@tavi-port.nhs.uk if you have any questions about any of the art in our building.

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