Portrait collection goes online
Harriet Wheelock

Portrait collection goes online

Last month we launched our new online archive and object catalogue, which makes it much easier for us to share images of our collections. This is even more important in the current situation when it is not possible to visit our collections in person. Today, we are very pleased to release a catalogue of the College’s portrait collection, which contains over 70 works of art representing figures from over three centuries of Irish medical history.

In her review of portraits of Irish medicine, the art historian Anne Crookshank commented that:

“Outside their artistic value, [they] proved to be remarkable social documents, giving an insight into the attitudes to doctors through the centuries, reaching a peak of magisterial grandeur in the mid-nineteenth century when consultant’s portraits show them as the leaders, almost the gods, of society equal in magnificence of their portrayal with the images of the aristocracy. Perhaps sadly for them, but the better for us, the twentieth century has cut them down to size human beings again in their small canvases, our equals, even our friends.” [1]

Sir Patrick Dun

The two earliest portraits in our collection, of John Stearne and Sir Patrick Dun, are both considered to be the works of late seventeenth century artist Thomas Pooley. The eighteenth century is somewhat underrepresented, with just a couple of smaller portraits, including Henry Quin, Sir Edward Barry and Charles Lucas (on loan from Dublin City Council). The notable exception is a large portrait, probably of George Cleghorn, by the Irish artist Mary Ann Hunter, completed when she was still in her teens.

With the move to Kildare Street in 1864 the College gained more space to display portraits and this, combined with the growing wealth and prestige of the profession, led to the ‘peak of magisterial grandeur’ seen in the large scale works of the Catterson Smiths and Sir Alfred Jones. Pride of place in this group is given by Crookshank to the portrait of Sir Dominic Corrigan by Stephen Catterson Smith the elder.

Sir Dominic Corrigan

In the first half of the twentieth century the collection again reflects Crookshanks’ summary, with a move away from large scale oils to smaller less formal drawings. These include works by Sean O’Sullivan, John Butler Yeats and Estelle Solomons. The only portrait of a female in the collection also dates from this period, Dr Kathleen Lynn by Lily Williams, originally displayed in St Ultan’s Hospital. Although female sitters are noticeably absent from the College’s collections, female artists are better represented, with Sarah Purser and Sarah Cecilia Harrison joining those already mentioned.

Kathleen Lynn

The College’s portrait collection continues to develop as in 2015 were received a donation of the portraits of Henry Grey Croly and Charles Benson from the former Royal City of Dublin Hospital. We also continue to commission portraits of our Presidents, with works by Maeve McCarthy, James Hanley and Carey Clarke added in recent years. The portrait of Prof Mary Horgan, our first female President, is currently under commission.

You can view descriptions of all our portraits, and images of all but four of them, on our online catalogue 

[1] Eoin O’Brien and Anne Crookshank (ed). A Portrait of Irish Medicine (Ward River Press, 1984)