‘This bewitching poison’: alcohol and the Royal College of Physicians

An exhibition exploring 300 years of drinking history through the work of artists, doctors and satirists.

13 January – 28 July 2014

First floor gallery and treasures room

Royal College of Physicians, Regent's Park, NW1 4LE

Visit Monday–Friday 9am–5pm, free entry

From the ‘gin craze’ in the 1700s to minimum unit pricing debates today, our exhibition tells stories of drinking: consumption and regulation, excess and temperance, celebration and destitution, disease and cure.

Discover how doctors, campaigners, artists and satirists charted the pleasures and pitfalls of wine, beer and spirits and the ways in which the government and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) responded – with far-reaching implications for us all today.

On display will be paintings, prints, rare books and intriguing artefacts with loans from the Museum of London, the Wellcome Library, the Cartoon Museum and others.

Watch the exhibition film One too many by artist Annis Joslin

Watch a BBC interview with exhibition guest curator Caroline Fisher 

 @RCPmuseum #BewitchingPoison

About the exhibition

A history of campaigning

The RCP has campaigned on alcohol and public health for centuries. Former RCP president Professor Sir Ian Gilmore currently heads the call for a minimum unit price for alcohol. Back in 1725 RCP fellow Dr John Freind presented a petition to the House of Commons criticising the ‘the fatal effects of the frequent use of several sorts of distilled spirituous liquors’. By 1751, Parliament finally restricted the sale of gin, and Hogarth's famous print ‘Gin Lane’ features in the exhibition alongside its partner ‘Beer Street’.

The art of drinking

Artists’ responses to alcohol form a major theme of the exhibition and include works by 19th century illustrators Gustav Doré, satirists from George Cruikshank to Martin Rowson and MATT, contemporary painter and printmaker Paula Rego, and a specially commissioned artist’s film by Annis Joslin highlighting the impact of alcohol now.

Wine, beer and spirits

The exhibition will feature volumes from the RCP’s rare book collections detailing medical treatments and recipes throughout history that used alcohol as their main ingredient. A 1660s recipe book lists ‘an excellent drink against the plague’ of herbs, wine and distilled spirit. During the English Civil War, wine was the drink of Royalists and we will display a Charles II Coronation cup for ‘caudle’: sweetened wine mixed with cream and egg and served hot.

 'This bewitching poison' was curated by Dr Caroline Fisher and the RCP museum team.

Enquiries: history@rcplondon.ac.uk

Telephone: 0203 075 1543

Twitter: @RCPmuseum  #BewitchingPoison