Hunterian Museum in London to reopen on 16 May - Museums Association

Hunterian Museum in London to reopen on 16 May

Venue will acknowledge its impact on medical history ‘both for good and bad’
Some of the specimens on display at the Hunterian Museum
Some of the specimens on display at the Hunterian Museum Dmitry Djouce/Flickr

The Hunterian Museum at London's Royal College of Surgeons of England is to welcome the public back on 16 May following a six-year, £4.6m redevelopment.

Visitors will have free access to a varied collection tracing the art and science of surgery from the 17th century to the present day. More than 2,000 anatomical specimens prepared by Hunter will be displayed alongside instruments, equipment, models, paintings and archival material.

“It is tremendously exciting to welcome the public back”, said Dawn Kemp, director of museums and special collections at the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

This May marks the 210th anniversary of the founding of Hunterian Museum. Named after the 18th-century Scottish surgeon and anatomist John Hunter, the museum houses one of the world’s most important medical collections.

Sweeping renovations by the design studio Casson Mann have reimagined the museum’s displays, creating “a series of jewel-like galleries full of surprising and curious juxtapositions and wonderful stories,” said Roger Mann, the studio’s founder and director.

“We hope that medical professionals and visitors alike will enjoy this journey of discovery and appreciate the extraordinary contributions of John Hunter and others who pioneered the field of medical and surgical knowledge,” said Mann.


Modern works of art will also feature in the museum’s permanent collections, including Concourse (2) by Barbara Hepworth. Hepworth sought to portray the “extraordinary beauty of purpose and coordination” of operating theatres through the painting, which is part of her 1948 Hospital Drawing series.

The redeveloped museum will explore issues around the display of human remains and the acquisition of specimens during British colonial expansion.

The institution faced criticism earlier this year when it confirmed that it would retain the skeleton of Charles Byrne, an Irishman who lived with gigantism, whose remains were seized upon his death and put on public display for more than 200 years against his documented wishes. Byrne’s skeleton will no longer be on public view but will be available for medical research.

Kemp acknowledged that history was made within the museum’s walls “both for good and bad”.

Renowned as the place where dinosaurs were named and where Charles Darwin came for advice on fossils, it is also “where some of those closely involved in the Western ‘colonial project’ developed sinister and awful ideas on racial theory”, she said.

 “Its history makes it a unique place to contemplate what it is to be human. A place to reflect and consider our shared and finite natural world and our responsibility to care for the well-being of our fellow humans and all living things. A place to exchange ideas and views and to review our shared histories through the widest possible lens.”

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