New art exhibition celebrates Hunterian bicentenary

Published: 11 June 2007

"My Highest Pleasures": William Hunter's Art Collection celebrates 200 years of an extraordinary collection which includes some of Scotland's best loved paintings.

"My Highest Pleasures": William Hunter's Art Collection celebrates 200 years of this extraordinary collection and includes some of Scotland's best loved paintings.

This new exhibition opens at the Hunterian Art Gallery on 15 June and is the Art Gallery's contribution to the Hunterian bicentenary celebrations.

When it opened in 1807, the Hunterian was the first museum with a gallery of paintings. Hunter was one of the greatest medical collectors of the 18th century, and pictures formed only a small part of his collections. However, he played a very important role in the London art world, and this exhibition offers the first ever analysis of his paintings in relation to the taste of the period. The paintings are exhibited alongside books, prints and other objects from his collections which illustrate the intellectual agenda that lay behind his acquisitions.

"My Highest Pleasures" is the result of 5 years research and reveals William Hunter's extraordinary place in 18th century world of art and science. The exhibition contains 150 works, including a selection of 35 of Hunter's old master paintings, mainly acquired in the 1770s. The quality of his collection is very high, with a dozen significant masterpieces, including Rembrandt's 'Entombment', and Chardin's 'Lady Taking Tea'. Other highlights include works such as Zoffany's painting of 'Hunter Lecturing' (Royal College of Physicians), rarely seen prints and drawings from Hunter's library, for example his great set of 20 anatomical drawings by Pietro da Cortona, and newly discovered works by Inigo Jones.

The exhibition is in four sections. Hunter's pictures are displayed in two galleries, and are grouped by school to show how he collected Italian, Dutch and Flemish, and French paintings with equal passion. Two sections present the art in his library, focussing on the rise of Neo-classicism, portraits of beauties, theatrical scenes, and caricatures of anatomists at work. The final section explores Hunter's methods of teaching anatomy to artists. A highlight is the famous plaster anatomical statue known as 'Smugglerius' (Royal Academy of Arts). The figure was based on that of a hanged smuggler, but set in the pose of an ancient Greek statue, the 'Dying Gaul'.

The exhibition is curated by Peter Black of the Hunterian Art Gallery and is accompanied by a richly illustrated exhibition catalogue (192 pp), with essays by Mungo Campbell, Peter Black, Anne Dulau, and Helen McCormack, published by Holberton Publishing.

"My Highest Pleasures": William Hunter's Art Collection is at the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, from 15 June - 1 December 2007 (Closed 14 - 16 July and 21 - 24 September 2007).

A conference titled 'William Hunter and the Art and Science of 18th Century Collecting' will take place in the University from 8 - 10 November 2007.

Further information and pictures: William Hunter art collection

Harriet Gaston (

First published: 11 June 2007

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