Papers of Edward Adamson (1911-1996)

  • Adamson, Edward
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


Material relating to Edward Adamson's pioneering work using art to treat mental illness, including art therapy lecture notes, photographs and slides of works from the Adamson Collection, leaflets, articles, correspondence, notebooks and drawings.

Section A includes correspondence around the plans to increase Adamson's salary in the 1950s (of Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt's initiative), letters from Susan Hogan and Irene Champernowne, postcards from the artist Rolanda Polonska. Section C contains over 600 slides and photos of the works from the Adamson Collection, some of these are the only surviving record of the objects lost or destroyed.



Physical description

8 boxes



Papers of Edward Adamson have been arranged in six sections:

A Correspondence

B Professional, financial and property documents

C Adamson Collection

D Writings by Adamson

E Artwork by Adamson

F Personalia

Acquisition note

Acc 1055 was given to the library at Wellcome Collection in May 2002 by a former Wellcome BSc student who had been given the papers by John Timlin, Adamson's partner, for her dissertation. Acc 1764 was given in October 2010 by John Timlin.

Biographical note

Edward Adamson was an artist and one of the pioneers of art therapy in Britain. First artist to be employed by NHS, he worked in a long-stay mental health asylum Netherne in Surrey 1946-1981, facilitating art sessions for the patients. He kept most of the works and started The Adamson Collection which currently holds about 5,500 works in different media. Adamson was instrumental in creating the British Association of Art Therapists in 1964 and was briefly its first chair.

Adamson was born on 31 may 1911 in Sale near Manchester. He received a degree in Fine Art from Beckenham and Bromley School of Art (today Ravensbourne) and Teacher's Certificate from Arthur Segal's School of Painting. He also qualified as chiropodist. He worked as a commercial artist at Haycock Press Ltd. advertising agency on Fleet Street in the 1930s and as conscientious objector served as medical orderly during the Second World War.

After the war Adamson worked with another artist, Adrian Hill, and was involved in the British Red Cross Picture Library, a programme bringing reproductions of famous paintings accompanied by lectures to the patients of hospitals, most prominently TB sanatoria. Adamson was in the first group to extend the programme to long-stay mental hospitals and in 1946 got employed, initially part-time, at Netherne hospital in Surrey. He facilitated psychiatric research art studio there 1946-1950 and later supervised several art studios allowing free expression to patients until his retirement in 1981.

Adamson was the first artist employed by the NHS and didn't want to subsume 'art therapy' under 'occupational therapy' within public health structure. He was instrumental in creating the British Association of Art Therapists in 1964 and was briefly its first chair and in 1969-1970 was briefly Head of the first British Art Therapy training programme at St. Albans School of Art.

Adamson began collecting the patients' works during his early visits to Netherne and later kept all the works created in his studios, inscribing them with the name and the date on the back, assembling what is today known as the Adamson Collection. After his retirement in 1981 the Collection was hosted 1981-1997 in Ashton Wold, the estate of Miriam Rothschild (Lane) (1908-2005), British entomologists. The Collection was subsequently housed in Lambeth Hospital in London and as of June 2013, most of the works are deposited at the Wellcome Library, awaiting decisions regarding their future housing.

Netherne paintings and drawings were shown as early as in 1950, during the International Exhibition of Psychopathological Art at the First International Congress of Psychiatry in Paris. Selections from the Collection were shown at the major international exhibitions, including two at the London ICA (in 1955 and 1964) and others in Egypt, Canada and Israel. Adamson lectured on the Collection in Britain and abroad, including a residency in Egypt in the 1970s.

In 1984 Adamson published, together with his life partner since 1953, the teacher and writer John Timlin (b. 1930), a book Art as Healing (London : Coventure, 1984), introducing his work at Netherne and the Collection. Adamson and Timlin regularly visited the Jungian art therapy community in Withymead, Oxfordshire, established by Irene and Gilbert Champernowne. In later life Adamson distanced himself from the British art therapy and the Jungians, feeling more at home with the 'Outsider Art' approach to the collection of patients' works. In 1995 he donated several works to American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore, USA.

Adamson died on 3 February 1996 in his studio in Chelsea, London. His ashes were interred at the Ashton Chapel on the Ashton Wold estate. Towards the end of 1996 it transpired that Adamson was to be included on the 1997 New Year Honours list and awarded an MBE.

Related material

In the Wellcome LIbrary:

MS.7913/28: Chapter 26. Edward Adamson, 'Art Therapy in the Treatment of Mental Illness'

SA/ADC: papers of the Adamson Collection Trust.

Art-therapy. Paintings and drawings by psychiatric patients, under the guidance of Edward Adamson, ca. 1946-1981: more than 5,000 paintings and drawings, deposited in the Wellcome Library in the summer 2012, currently awaiting decisions on potential rehousing/arrangement.

PP/RKF: Section B of Rudolf Karl Freudenberg's (1908-1993) papers relate to Freudenberg's psychiatric practice at Netherne Hospital where Adamson worked 1946-1981 and contains two files on the Adamson Collection (PP/RKF/B.15/1 and PP/RKF/B.15/4).

Art-therapy. Paintings and drawings by psychiatric, geriatric, tuberculosis and other patients and by disturbed children, under the guidance of Rita M. Simon, ca. 1942-1989: more than 300 paintings, Iconographic Collection.

Psychiatric patients and psychiatrists. Etchings by Gemma Anderson, 2009-2010: 16 prints in Iconographic Collection.

PP/PMY: currently uncatalogued collection including a mixture of handwritten and printed work, along with paintings, sketches, drawings, relevant newspaper articles and ephemera, by a mental health patient. The diaries (1979-2011) detail the patient's journey through the mental health system and her close relationship with her therapist.

Terms of use

This collection has been catalogued and is available to library members. Some items have access restrictions which are explained in the item-level catalogue records.


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Accession number

  • 1055
  • 1764
  • 2349