Thursday 22 October 2015

New research into the medics of the later Victorian era, who pioneered social reform and made life-saving advances and discoveries in the diagnosis and cure of illness, has been published for the first time on the National Portrait Gallery’s website.

Supported by Walgreens Boots Alliance, the research is part of a major project exploring the work of important figures who led the way in medical studies and includes newly published visual biographies on people such as Havelock Ellis, who raised the profile of the scientific study of sexuality; nursing reformer Florence Nightingale; and Frederick Treves, who ‘rescued’ Joseph Merrill, the ‘Elephant Man’.

The newly written entries are a major expansion of the Gallery’s existing online Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue and have also informed a new interactive timeline aimed at educating GCSE History students on the importance of the period for the advancement of medicine.

Included in the published research are documents from the Walgreens Boots Alliance archive, which reveal that the first portrait of its founder, Jesse Boot, was defaced by Nazi officers in 1940. The research shows that Nazi officers used a lighted cigar to burn a hole through the mouth area of the portrait of Sir Jesse Boot before inserting the cigar into the charred hole to give the impression that he was smoking in the manner of Churchill. The damage to Boot’s portrait occurred when family home in Jersey was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1940 and was only discovered when the portrait was returned to the Boots headquarters in Nottingham in the 1950s. The portrait was paid for in 1909 by Boots employees, who had ‘spoken of their desire to show Mr Jesse Boot how much they feel his unfailing kindness and generosity’.  Two shillings and sixpence was the maximum contribution allowed. The portrait was repaired by Boots and is now on loan to the National Portrait Gallery, London.

The new online visual biographies in the Gallery’s Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue have also informed a new digital interactive timeline exploring the key people behind the pioneering medical advances of 1840 – 1920, a resource primarily aimed at GCSE History students and teachers. Featuring portraits from the Gallery’s Collection alongside images and historical objects from the Boots archive, the timeline A Picture of Health lets viewers explore the people behind the social reforms and the stories of the remarkable medical discoveries that transformed the lives of people in Britain at that time.

The National Portrait Gallery’s Curator of Nineteenth-Century Portraits and Head of Research Programmes, Dr Peter Funnell, who has led the research project, says: ‘The Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue is the result of in-depth and wide ranging scholarship, which provides the first comprehensive pictorial and biographical account of pioneers in the field of medicine and health.  The Gallery is most grateful to Walgreens Boots Alliance for making this possible.’

Ornella Barra, Walgreens Boots Alliance Executive Vice President, and President and Chief Executive of Global Wholesale and International Retail, who is also responsible for Corporate Social Responsibility activities across the Company, says: ‘We are pleased to be partnering with the National Portrait Gallery and delighted to see Sir Jesse Boot recognised for his pioneering work in the medical and pharmaceutical industry as he revolutionised people’s access to affordable medicine. He was also a great believer in education and we are proudly carrying on with this tradition through this resource made available to schools.’

Liz Smith, Director of Participation and Learning, National Portrait Gallery, says: ‘The new interactive timeline will be a fascinating insight for students and teachers into our Collection of medical pioneers and their stories of innovation. The timeline forms an important part of the Gallery’s digital resources for schools and young people and a new way to explore the portraits with contextual archival material.’

 A Picture of Health interactive timeline is available at

The National Portrait Gallery’s online Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue is available at

For further Press information, please contact: Sylvia Ross, Press Officer, National Portrait Gallery: Tel. 020 7321 6620 (not for publication) / Email [email protected]

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