Wellcome Collection: A world first, opened by a world-famous scientist

20 July 2007


… Antony Gormley • Nelson’s razor • Marc Quinn • printout of the human genome • Andy Warhol • Egyptian Book of the Dead • Leonardo da Vinci drawings • used guillotine blade • live heart surgery • Charles Darwin’s walking stick • giant jelly baby • 60 amputation saws… 


Wellcome Collection, the new £30 million visitor attraction from the Wellcome Trust, was opened today by Nobel Prize winner Professor James Watson,co-discoverer of the structure of DNA and Stephen Fry at an evening gala reception.

Wellcome Collection opens to the public on June 21. Admission is free.

Wellcome Collection is a world first. It combines three contemporary galleries together with the world-famous Wellcome Library, public events forum, café, bookshop, conference centre and members’ club, to provide visitors with radical insight into the human condition.

Wellcome Collection builds on the vision, legacy and personal collection of Wellcome Trust founder Sir Henry Wellcome, and is part of the Trust’s mission to foster understanding and promote research to improve human and animal health.

The nine-storey building houses more than 1,300 exhibits across three galleries. Bringing together the worlds of art, science and history they range from the bizarre to the beautiful, the ancient to the futuristic. Examples include work by artists such as Antony Gormley, Leonardo da Vinci, Andy Warhol, Marc Quinn, John Isaacs, Christine Borland and Martin Parr, as well as Aztec sacrificial knives, 19thcentury sex aids, amputation saws, Nelson’s razor and a DNA-sequencing robot.

The galleries Medicine Man, Medicine Now and ‘special exhibitions’ space display exhibits in contemporary ways to challenge and inspire visitors to contemplate issues of human wellbeing, health and identity through the ages. The opening special exhibition is The Heart.

Wellcome Collection is the transformation of the Wellcome Building, the former headquarters of the Wellcome Trust, at 183 Euston Road, built in 1932 to the specification of Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853–1936).

Wellcome was a pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector. His passionate interest in medicine and its history, as well as ethnography and archaeology, led him to gather more than one million objects from across the world. His original vision was to create a ‘Museum of Man’ at 183 Euston Road to display his collection. Wellcome Collection builds on his vision and provides contemporary space to explore human wellbeing through the combination of medicine, life and art.


Wellcome Collection, total size 16 000 m2, is centred around on substantial galleries totalling 1350 m2:

Special exhibitions (650 m2). The largest gallery in Wellcome Collection will be used to host temporary exhibitions, presenting newly commissioned works and thematic shows structured around topics of medical, cultural and ethical significance. The opening exhibition is:

  • The Heart (21 June–16 September 2007). An exhibition exploring the medical and cultural significance of the heart, featuring exhibits from Leonardo da Vinci and Andy Warhol, through to the Egyptian Book of the Dead and live heart surgery. The Heart brings together contemporary and historic artefacts from across the world to form an exhibition that traces the history of our medical understanding of the heart and examines its extraordinary symbolic and cultural significance. The exhibition includes a rich selection of Christian Sacred Heart imagery, including paintings from Mexico never seen before in Europe. It also incorporates a wall of animal hearts – from a 1.75 m whale heart to a 2.5 cm ray heart – and shows how recent imaging techniques can reveal the heart’s most intimate workings.
  • New book: The Heart. To coincide with this pioneering exhibition, the Wellcome Trust and Yale University Press have published The Heart, a richly illustrated 250-page hardback book of nine essays and eight interviews exploring the medical and cultural importance of the heart. Writers include Jonathan Miller, Louisa Young and Michael Bracewell. Full details on The Heart are attached.

Medicine Man (350 m2)

  • The exhibition contains more than 500 strange and beautiful artefacts from Sir Henry Wellcome’s original collection, presented in a rich American walnutpanelled gallery, centred on a large ‘Wunderkammer’ cabinet. Some exhibits are displayed for their historical significance, e.g. a lock of George III’s hair (found to have traces of arsenic, an 18th-century treatment for madness), while others, such as a brass corset and an iron chastity belt, illustrate our fascination with the body and desire to have control over it. Other objects, such as an early 20th-century infant ID kit and a selection of amulets from the Hildburgh Collection, are presented individually and examined through audio by commentators from different backgrounds, to show that one object can mean many different things and tell many different stories. Full details on Medicine Man are attached.

Medicine Now (350 m2)

  • Medicine Now explores contemporary medical topics through the eyes of scientists, artists and popular culture in a bright contemporary environment. Art is clearly separated from the scientific exhibits in large red art cubes; galleries inside the gallery. Medicine Now focuses on a few select themes: Genomes, The Body, Malaria, Obesity and The Experience of Medicine. Work by contemporary artists such as John Issacs, Luke Jerram, William Cobbing and Julie Cockburn is displayed.
  • The first printout of the human genome to be presented as a series of books is included in the exhibition. The 3.4 billion units of DNA code translate into over a hundred volumes, each a thousand pages long, in type so small that it is barely legible.
  • Two new interactive exhibits have been developed specially for the exhibition. One creates a beautifully rendered ‘Bio-ID’ for each visitor, showing the ways in which biometric data can be collected and used. The other combines a visitor’s face with others in similar demographic groups, to see how, for example, a smoker’s face differs from that of a non-smoker. Full details on Medicine Now are attached.

Satellite exhibits

  • Artwork and artefacts are located around the building either individually or in themed clusters and provide a ‘fourth gallery’. Works by artists such as Spencer Tunick, Mauro Perucchetti, Anthony Gormley and Marc Quinn are displayed around the building.


Public events

A lively programme of public events will expand on exhibition themes. Wellcome Collection’s flexible events space, the Forum, will bring audiences face-to-face with prominent experts and personalities from the worlds of art, science and the humanities, to explore current issues and ancient mysteries of human wellbeing. There are ten events from launch until September 2007. Two examples are:

  • ‘Live Surgery’, 5 July, 19.00. The first interactive broadcast of a UK hospital operation to a public audience will take place in support of The Heart exhibition. Heart surgeon Francis Wells and his team at Papworth Hospital will perform a complex reconstruction of a heart valve. The audience at Wellcome Collection will be able to speak to Francis as he operates and handle some of the equipment used in the operation with help from members of the Papworth medical team. The audience will also be able to learn more about the patient and the impact the surgery will have on their life, and why preserving the natural heart valve, rather than replacing it with an artificial valve, allows the heart to function more efficiently.
  • A Modern Miracle, 26 July, 19.00 – 20.30. A discussion that uncovers the myths and realities of heart transplants. How does one determine death? Why is there an unwillingness to donate livesaving organs? How does it feel to receive someone else’s heart? Join our guests (a surgeon, a psychologist and a transplant recipient) to discuss the myths and realities of heart transplants, possible solutions to the donation crisis and the emotional impact of heart transplants on donor families and recipients.

Information on forthcoming Wellcome Collection events is available here.


Wellcome Library

The Wellcome Library contains over two million items and is one of the world’s greatest collections for the study of the history and progress of medicine. The public areas of the Library span two floors and include the fully restored Reading Room, first used as a Hall of Statuary by Sir Henry Wellcome in 1932.

The Library contains 750 000 books, a film and audio collection of 2500 titles, 600 archival collections, 70 000 rare books (published before 1850), and more than 250 000 paintings, prints and photographs. Artefacts range from the Nuremberg< Chronicle (1493), a book depicting the history of the world with 800 woodcut illustrations, to fragments of Books of the Dead from ancient Egypt, to 21st-century born-digital biomedical archives.

The Wellcome Library’s entire collection, laid end to end, would cover a distance of over 18 km – equivalent to 187 times the height of Big Ben.

New for Wellcome Collection, the Wellcome Library has announced:

  • New book: Cures and Curiosities: Inside the Wellcome Library has been published by Profile Books. The book illustrates the diversity of the Library’s collection with over 150 photographs and personal observations from some of the authors who have used the Library, including Kathryn Hughes, Philip Hoare and Gillian Tindall. The book has been edited by Anthony Gould, with a foreword by Sebastian Faulks.
  • Uncover: A new touch-screen installation that allows visitors to browse some of the Library’s most prized and interesting holdings. Visitors can create their own exhibition, go on a tour of the collections, and magnify, rotate and find out more about each item.
  • Wellcome Images: A collection of 200 000 images depicting medical and social history, as well as contemporary healthcare and biomedical science, can be downloaded for use and re-use under a Creative Commons licence for non-commercial use. http://images.wellcome.ac.uk.

Full details for the Wellcome Library are at: http://library.wellcome.ac.uk/


Dr Mark Walport, Director, the Wellcome Trust, said: “Health, wellbeing and disease are central concerns to every one of us. Wellcome Collection provides a wonderful opportunity for the Wellcome Trust to entertain, challenge and debate health issues with the public. We will use the extraordinary artefacts collected by Sir Henry Wellcome, augmented by our contemporary collections, extraordinary library and scientific archives to bring to life a wide range of themes relating to health, wellbeing and disease. We invite people to become active participants in Wellcome Collection.”

Clare Matterson, Director, Medicine, Society and History, the Wellcome Trust, said: “The Wellcome Trust understands the power of using the arts to engage audiences around issues of human health. Since 2002 we have awarded £5.5 million to original and imaginative arts projects inspired by biomedical science. Wellcome Collection combines our experiences with the vision and legacy of Sir Henry Wellcome to provide a contemporary space that enables people to explore the connections between art and medicine in dramatic and challenging ways.”

Professor James Watson said: 'Where else can you browse the more than 3 billion letters of the human genome, see one of the robots that helped to sequence it and contemplate the reactions of contemporary artists to this major scientific development? In the pioneering Wellcome Collection - how wonderful!'

Stephen Fry, actor, writer, comedian, filmmaker and co-host of Wellcome Collection’s opening gala on the evening of June 20, with Professor James Watson said: "One of the most remarkable collections of medical and physiological items ever assembled is united with three intelligent, inspiring and intriguing exhibitions to make as compelling a visit as London has to offer. You'd be sorry to miss it."


Wellcome Collection also houses:

  • Members’ club. Wellcome Collection’s Club is a place where art meets science and medicine meets anthropology. With an introductory offer of a year’s membership for £45 (£28 concessions), the Club provides members with benefits across Wellcome Collection, including access to a private Club Room designed by Ilse Crawford. The room encapsulates the spirit of innocent invention with a sense of humour and a celebration of the eccentricities of science. Furniture by Achille Castiglioni, Eileen Gray, Ingo Maurer and Jean Prouve joins flying lightbulbs, snaking bookshelves and a giant creeping sofa to create a Club Room unlike any other.
  • Peyton and Byrne café. Peyton and Byrne's acclaimed British bakery is on offer at Wellcome Collection, providing a relaxing space for visitors and passers-by in search of great British food and refreshments. Peyton and Byrne is also responsible for cafés in the National Gallery, the Wallace Collection and Heal's.
  • Blackwell bookshop. Located on Wellcome Collection’s ground floor, the 230 m2 bookshop is an academic centre of excellence for the Blackwell chain. It combines a broad range of titles covering specialist areas of medicine, science, art and history as well as gifts from the Wellcome Collection range.
  • Conference Centre. The Conference Centre provides a stimulating setting for corporate and private events, comprising a 154-seat auditorium, four meeting rooms, open breakout spaces and state-of-the-art technology all set against a vibrant backdrop of artwork and exhibits.
  • The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL. The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL occupies the upper two floors of Wellcome Collection. The Centre’s historians are ideally placed to access the Wellcome Library and exhibitions, and contribute towards the public events programme.


Past exhibitions 

During the past decade the Wellcome Trust has organised more than 20 exhibitions covering a vast range of biomedical topics, from jellyfish to autism, metamorphosis to pain. In 2003, Medicine Man at the British Museum (a showcase of roughly 700 objects from Sir Henry Wellcome’s original collection) attracted 200 000 visits. Between 2002 and 2005 the Trust presented a series of five major exhibitions at the Science Museum, culminating with Future Face in late 2004, which attracted 120 000 visits. The Trust also hosted numerous exhibitions in its TwoTen Gallery and funded major projects such as the Wellcome Trust Gallery (home to the Living and Dying exhibition) at the British Museum.


Architectural transformation of 183 Euston Road

Hopkins Architects has remodelled 183 Euston Road to create Wellcome Collection. Sir Henry Wellcome specified that the building should include a sculpture court and majestic galleries. Wellcome Collection reflects his vision and the ideas of education and exploration. The transformed building is a light, modern, airy and contemporary space while also linking back to the original architecture and design. The ground-floor windows have been enlarged to better connect the inside of the building to the outside; passers-by can gaze into the gallery and café areas. The entrance has been modified to allow wheelchair access. Materials used in the building include limestone and maple flooring, marble, maple and American walnut walls, steel and glass. Three galleries span two floors and provide a modern yet largely neutral space to enable the artwork and collections to be presented to best effect. The Wellcome Trust headquarters at 215 Euston Road was also designed by Hopkins Architects and completed in 2004.

Wellcome Collection forms an integral part of a new cultural quarter emerging in north London around Euston and King’s Cross. Wellcome Collection is close to UCL, Birkbeck College, SOAS, the British Library and the British Museum. The redevelopment of King’s Cross and the arrival of the Eurostar provide an exciting new commuter, commercial and creative hub.


Wellcome Collection opening hours

Monday 10.00–18.00 (galleries closed, except bank holidays)

Tuesday 10.00–18.00 (Library until 20.00)

Wednesday 10.00–18.00

Thursday 10.00–22.00 (Library until 20.00)

Friday 10.00–18.00

Saturday 10.00–18.00 (Library until 16.00)

Sunday 11.00–18.00 (Library closed)

Closed 24–26 December



From July 14 there will be a 30-minute exhibition tour every Saturday at 14.30.


Public information contact details

Wellcome Collection

183 Euston Road

London NW1 2BE

T +44 (0)20 7611 2222

E info@wellcomecollection.org



Press information and images

Wellcome Collection

Kallaway Media Centre and press images: www.kallaway.co.uk/wellcome.htm


Press contacts

Will Kallaway

T +44 (0)20 7221 7883

E will.kallaway@kallaway.co.uk


Anna Cusden

T +44 (0)20 7221 7883

E anna.cusden@kallaway.co.uk


Wellcome Trust

Media centre: www.wellcome.ac.uk/aboutus/mediaoffice/


Press contacts:

Katrina Nevin-Ridley

T +44 (0)20 7611 8540

E k.nevin-ridley@wellcome.ac.uk


Craig Brierley

T +44 (0)20 7611 7329

E c.brierley@wellcome.ac.uk


Mike Findlay

T +44 (0)20 7611 8612

E m.findlay@wellcome.ac.uk


About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK and the second largest medical research charity in the world. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending around £500 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing. Wellcome Trust funding has supported a number of major successes, including:

  • sequencing the human genome
  • establishing the UK Biobank
  • development of the antimalarial drug artemisinin
  • pioneering cognitive behavioural therapies for psychological disorders
  • building the Wellcome Wing at the Science Museum.
  • the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium, the largest ever genetic study of common diseases such as diabetes, coronary heart disease and bipolar disorder

The Wellcome Trust is a charity registered in England, no. 210183.