The Generous Georgian: Dr Richard Mead

26 September 2014 - 04 January 2015

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”.


The Generous Georgian: Dr Richard Mead is supported by the Wellcome Trust, the City of London Corporation and Verita.


Read our blog, which accompanies the exhibition and offers the opportunity to delve further into Mead's life and achievements. From his travels in Italy to the eccentricities of eighteenth-century medicine, it offers the chance to get to know him a little better.