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Portrait and fine art collection

The Royal College of Physicians' (RCP's) portrait galleries show leading physicians from the last 500 years, painted by some of Britain’s greatest artists. On display are works by: Cornelius Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, Johan Zoffany, Thomas Lawrence and Elizabeth Frink.

The museum collection holds over 5,000 oil paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures. They are mainly portraits of presidents, fellows and individuals associated with the history of medicine and the RCP from its foundation in 1518 to the present day. Many are on public display in our Regent’s Park headquarters.

In 1596 the RCP announced that any member or 'noble person' could display his portrait or coat of arms on payment of £10. Unfortunately, almost all the early portraits were lost when the RCP was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. From the 18th century a deliberate policy of building up the portrait collections began, but it was not until the 1940s that a portrait of every out-going president had been commissioned after their term of office.

Portraits tend to be formal, showing the sitter as a serious physician. They sometimes display attributes of the profession or reflect the personal interests of the sitter. Johan Zoffany's c.1772 portrait of William Hunter (1718–83) is the most famous painting in the collection. Surgeon and 'man-midwife' Hunter is depicted in his role as the first anatomy professor of the new Royal Academy of Arts, lecturing before an audience including academy president Sir Joshua Reynolds seated holding an ear trumpet.