New exhibition marks Hunter Tercentenary (and reveals how he helped shape modern museums)

Issued: Wed, 12 Sep 2018 08:00:00 BST

A major new exhibition at The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, will mark an important anniversary in the history of Scotland’s oldest public museum. William Hunter and the Anatomy of the Modern Museum opens on 28 September 2018 and marks the William Hunter Tercentenary – 300 years since the birth of Hunterian founder, Dr William Hunter (1718-1783).

The exhibition not only offers a critical examination of Hunter - a man of exceptional vision who saw no boundaries between art and science, but explores his life, character and career as well as his research, collection and links to Glasgow.

Hunter’s original Enlightenment collection is a rare example which has survived largely intact and these objects and artworks are the foundation of The Hunterian collections today. William Hunter and the Anatomy of the Modern Museum showcases this truly unique collection, encyclopaedic in nature and with its heart in the Scottish Enlightenment. The exhibition also offers a balanced account of the circumstances that made a collection like Hunter’s possible and examines the means by which it was amassed.

Visitors will have the opportunity to see key items from Hunter’s collection, reunited for the first time in over 150 years and displayed to highlight the connections between them.

More than 400 items will be on display including: fossils; anatomical specimens and preparations; paintings, drawings and prints; rare books and manuscripts; ethnographical objects; rocks and mineral specimens; coins and medals; shells, corals, beetles, butterflies and examples of taxidermy. The majority come from The Hunterian, and Archives and Special Collections at the University of Glasgow Library, where Hunter’s collection of books and manuscripts is kept.

Key loans include a life size écorché figure from the Royal Academy of Arts in London and Johan Zoffany’s painting William Hunter Lecturing that shows William Hunter delivering an anatomy class, on loan from the Royal College of Physicians in London.

Important conservation work has been carried out on a number of items from Hunter’s collection including paintings, frames, sculptures, textiles, books, works on paper and objects of decorative art.

Must see items include:

  • Four of Hunter’s plaster cast models, now fully restored, which were used in preparation for his great publication Anatomia Uteri Humani Gravidi Tabulis Illustrate, (Anatomy of the Gravid Uterus Exhibited in Figures, 1774). A selection of related drawings, prints and proofs are included, many of which have not been on display before. The casts show the various stages of the pregnant human womb in progressive states of dissection in graphic and stunning naturalistic detail. 
  • Our unique 17th century Chinese map of the world, displayed in its entirety for the first time.
  • Hunter’s complete collection of 88 gold Roman coins, issued by every Roman Emperor from 27BCE to 491CE. The Hunterian is one of only three places in the world where such a complete series can be seen.
  • Hunter’s will – on loan from the National Archives of Scotland and on public display for the first time.
  • The life size écorché figure on loan from the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
  • An exceptional and fully restored 18th century Maori cloak from New Zealand made of flax and feathers.
  • The ‘Hunterian Psalter’ – usually housed in Archives and Special Collections at the University of Glasgow Library, this lavishly illuminated bound English manuscript is dated to 1170 and is considered the greatest treasure of William Hunter’s library.

William Hunter and the Anatomy of the Modern Museum also reveals the contribution made by Hunter to the development of modern museums as we know them today, exploring the interplay between the arts and sciences in the pursuit of knowledge over the course of the 18th century.

The exhibition and publication William Hunter and the Anatomy of the Modern Museum are the result of a five-year collaborative research project between The Hunterian and the Yale Center for British Art and showcase new research undertaken by an international team of scholars. The lead curator is Mungo Campbell, Deputy Director of The Hunterian; and the organizing curator at the Yale Center for British Art is Nathan Flis, Head of Exhibitions and Publications, and Assistant Curator of Seventeenth-Century Paintings. They are assisted by Lola Sanchez-Jauregui, William Hunter Tercentenary Curator at The Hunterian. A fully illustrated exhibition catalogue, co-edited by Mungo Campbell and Nathan Flis, will be published by The Hunterian and the Center in association with Yale University Press.

Running in parallel with William Hunter and the Anatomy of the Modern Museum are two exhibitions offering 21st century responses to Hunter’s collections, life and work. Strange Foreign Bodies and Rosengarten showcase the work of leading contemporary artists and writers including Claire Barclay, Christine Borland, Anne Bevan and Janice Galloway.

Strange Foreign Bodies is a group exhibition of films, prints and sculptural works by artists including Claire Barclay, Christine Borland, Sarah Browne, Alex Impey and Phillip Warnell. Taking William Hunter's Tercentenary as its point of departure, the exhibition offers a 21st century perspective on Hunter's Enlightenment project, with processes of mutation, metamorphosis and technological transformation central to many of the works. We encounter the story of a woman who has turned into an octopus, the philosophical reflections of a heart transplant patient, and the simulated breathing of an animatronic medical mannequin. These ‘strange foreign bodies’ reflect the complexity of all human embodiment today.

Rosengarten is a unique installation that brings together the sculpture of Anne Bevan and the words of Janice Galloway, two of Scotland’s foremost artists in their fields. Inspired by obstetric implements and important historic medical collections, Rosengarten looks at the tools of birthing and powerfully reflects the human and tender emotions of mother and baby that run parallel to the hard and frequently interventive experiences associated with modern childbirth.

William Hunter and the Anatomy of the Modern Museum is at the Hunterian Art Gallery from 28 September 2018 – 6 January 2019 then at the Yale Center for British Art (Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA) from 14 February – 20 May 2019. The project has been generously supported by The Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Museums Galleries Scotland and the Rev. Dr Donald McKellar Leitch Urie Bequest.

Strange Foreign Bodies, also at the Hunterian Art Gallery, runs from 28 September 2018 – 13 January 2019.

Rosengarten is now open at the Hunterian Art Gallery and runs until 20 January 2019. Purchased with funds from the National Collecting Scheme for Scotland and a grant from the Art Fund.

Admission to all three exhibitions is free.

Hunterian Art Gallery
University of Glasgow
82 Hillhead Street
Glasgow G12 8QQ

Open Tuesday – Saturday 10.00am – 5.00pm and Sunday 11.00am – 4.00pm


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