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Joan Gunther’s voice in art

We hold a portfolio of art by Joan Gunther, a London-based teacher, which formed part of her therapy and treatment in Royal Bethlem in the late 1940s. While in Hospital she was encouraged to paint her feelings and to then explain and describe her paintings. Dr Warren, who was in charge of her therapy, created a chronological numbering system that also included art created by Joan before her admission as well as the work she created while in Bethlem, possibly with the idea of comparing her art before her illness with her art while she was in Hospital. The art is often powerful and very striking in its use of colour and symbolism, and it is accompanied by notes that capture Joan’s description of the art, offering us a chance to get an impression of the experience of Joan’s illness in a unique and very visual way.


This particular art work is from February 1950. The notes for the painting read as follows ‘A tumour in one’s mind one was trying to get out. A picture of one’s mind; or the nearest one can get in one of these phases. Robots sucking in heads, dead people’, all going into a sort of cave; horses come out, they feel like them. A bit of Christ is in it.’

Joan was discharged from Bethlem after two years, and she seems to have led an active and independent life afterwards, which was cut short when she died of nephrosis in 1959. Her portfolio was deposited with us by Dr Warren, who seems to have remained in contact with Joan right up until death.

There are over 50 works in the portfolio, and we are looking at ways we can give access to the art and the notes for each painting, none of which have been on display as far as we are aware. For the time being, the artwork is available to view by appointment in the archives of the Museum.

If you knew Joan or her family and would like to tell us more about her life outside of Bethlem, do please get in touch with the Archives here - https://museumofthemind.org.uk/contact