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Throughout the 20th century, visitors to London's Middlesex Hospital encountered not only staff and patients but also a huddled group of orphaned girls, wounded soldiers and waiting invalids. As a medical student there, I was struck by the engaging faces of these near life-size figures staring out from imposing canvasses on the entrance hall walls. When the hospital was decommissioned in 2007 many feared that these important public murals would end up hidden in a private collection, but their last-minute purchase for the Wellcome Collection means they will remain on permanent public display at the Wellcome Library in Euston, London. This summer, however, they were temporarily relocated to the National Gallery for a small but powerful exhibition, providing an opportunity to re-examine this largely forgotten artist and one of his most intriguing commissions.
Acts of Mercy consists of four canvasses, each over 3 m long, completed between 1912 and 1920 and designed specifically for the hospital site. The beneficiaries of the hospital's charitable work are portrayed in two pairs of paintings. The first, …
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