Dr Richard Mead (1673-1754) was one of the most eminent physicians, patrons, collectors and philanthropists of his day, as well as a significant figure in the early history of the Foundling Hospital.
A leading expert on poisons, scurvy, smallpox and public health, Mead’s patients included Queen Anne, George II, Sir Isaac Newton and the painter Antoine Watteau. Mead was no stranger to daring acts and fierce controversies, with stories of drinking snake venom in his investigations into the effects of various poisons, and fighting a duel to defend his theory on smallpox treatment. He also possessed a deep-seated passion for the arts, demonstrated in a lifetime’s patronage of painters such as Allan Ramsay, and a revered collection of masterpieces that included works by Dürer, Holbein, Rembrandt, Poussin and Canaletto.
His home on Great Ormond Street backed onto the Foundling Hospital grounds, and housed his magnificent collection of paintings, sculptures, antiquities, coins and a library of over 10,000 books. Painters and scholars were given access to Mead’s renowned collection which, in a time before public galleries, offered visitors a rare chance to view artistic masterpieces from around the world.
Exploring Mead ‘in the round’, as a collector, philanthropist and physician, this exhibition celebrates the energy, learning and wide interests of a truly generous Georgian who, according to his contemporary the writer Samuel Johnson, “lived more in the broad sunshine of life than almost any man”.
This blog offers the opportunity to delve further into certain aspects of Mead’s life and work. From his travels in Italy to the eccentricities of eighteenth-century medicine, it offers the chance to get to know him a little better.
The Foundling Museum hosts a one-day interdisciplinary conference Dr Richard Mead: Physician, Philanthropist, Collector on Monday 20 October. Speakers include Ludmilla Jordanova, Professor of History and Visual Culture at Durham University and Stephanie Chapman, Curator at the Foundling Museum, and delegates are also invited to an early morning viewing of the Royal College of Physicians with Curator Emma Shepley.