Our ‘60 Years, 60 Voices’ series celebrates Paintings in Hospitals' 60th anniversary in 2019. The series gathers big ideas and stories about arts in health. The first of our 60 voices is the voice that started it all...

On Monday 6th April 1970, Sheridan Russell was a guest on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs. In a short clip, the only part of the programme still in existence, Sheridan speaks about his early life as a cellist, becoming a medical social worker and starting something called ‘Paintings in Hospitals’.

Sheridan Russell on Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, April 1970.

As almoner at the National Hospital from 1949, Sheridan was passionate about improving the care environment. He took it upon himself to change the type of art made available to patients:

“I got rather tired of the copies one sees...you know, those posters. I thought the real thing was so much better. So, I got a few friends of mine: Epstein, Matthew Smith, and people like that, to lend me their paintings. And I stuck them up all over the hospital.”

“At first, I had quite a lot of trouble but, eventually, it was approved. And it was going very well, so well that the Nuffield Foundation got interested and allowed us to start a thing called Paintings in Hospitals.”

In just over ten years, Sheridan had expanded Paintings in Hospitals from the National Hospital to 42 hospitals. As the Desert Island Discs presenter states, it was clear that people were realising that Paintings in Hospitals was both: “Good for the patient and good for the painters.”

National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in the 1960s

Where it all began... The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in the 1960s.

Sheridan believed that everyone should be able to experience the benefits of art. Even after leaving the medical world, he went back to playing cello in concerts for children and charities. By the 1980s, Paintings in Hospitals had grown to provide art to hospitals and other types of healthcare across England. In 1991, we provided seed funding for Paintings in Hospitals Scotland, which has since become Art in Healthcare.

Sheridan died in 1991. But his legacy lives on. The Paintings in Hospitals art collection, which began as just a few borrowed paintings, has grown to include nearly 4,000 artworks in many mediums. Today, you can experience our work in 180 health and social care spaces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Listen to Sheridan's full Desert Island Discs excerpt here.

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Sheridan Russell (1900-1991) was a medical social worker, patron of the arts and gifted cellist. As a child in Paris, he was diagnosed as being partially deaf by composer Claude Debussy. During World War II, Sheridan worked for British Intelligence in Italy. In later life, he became Britain's first male almoner (social worker). He was Head Almoner at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and founded Paintings in Hospitals in 1959.