The healer.

  • Copping, Harold, 1863-1932
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The healer. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0). Source: Wellcome Collection.

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About this work

Also known as

Previous title, replaced May 2022: A medical missionary attending to a sick African. Oil painting by Harold Copping, 1916.


An idealised white missionary, guided by Christ standing behind him, applies western medical knowledge to the healing of a sick African child. The missionary has a medicine chest identical in type to the Tabloid medicine chests which the firm of Burroughs Wellcome made for explorers and missionaries. In the foreground is the discarded African surgical instrument, the horn (used for cupping)

The white missionary resembles Henry Morton Stanley as portrayed in a wood engraving published in the Illustrated London news, 17 August 1872, p. 156



Physical description

1 painting : oil on canvas ; canvas 127 x 101.5 cm

Biographical note

Harold Copping (1863-1932) was a London painter of domestic scenes and figure subjects; also book illustrator. He studied at the RA schools and won the Landseer scholarship. He exhibited at the RA, the New Watercolour Society and elsewhere, and became well-known at the time for the Copping Bible, based on his travels in Palestine and Egypt


Wellcome Collection 535948i

References note

Sheila and Ken Wilson, Finding Harold Copping, Shoreham 2005, p. 117 (reproduced)
Sandy Brewer, 'From darkest England to the hope of the world: Protestant pedagogy and the visual culture of the London Missionary Society', Material religion, 2005, 1: 98-123
Christopher Wright et al., British and Irish paintings in public collections, New Haven and London: Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2006, p. 269
Tony Gould (ed.), Cures and curiosities: inside the Wellcome Library, London 2007, p. 196

Exhibitions note

Exhibited in the Reading Room, Wellcome Collection, 2014-2019
The painting was returned to storage in 2019 as part of a continuing process of reviewing what we display in Wellcome Collection, why and how. It depicts colonial hierarchies and racial stereotyping – part of history that should not be forgotten, but which could not be sufficiently countered and contextualised in the Reading Room without re-affirming those oppressions.


Title provided by the artist.

Ownership note

The painting was commissioned by the London Missionary Society in 1916, to publicise the Society's medical missions. It was known as "The healer by Harold Copping" and copies of the image were reproduced as slides for lectures on the medical work of the Missionary Society. The painting hung in the Missionary School of Tropical Diseases and Hygiene in Cambridge, exact dates are unknown, but a label on the reverse places it there in 1930. It was purchased by Wellcome Library in 2001.

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