The Hunterian is home to one of the most distinguished public art collections in Scotland. It includes over 900 paintings, 40,000 works on paper and modest holdings of applied and decorative art (Mackintosh, Scottish ceramics, Whistler memorabilia) and sculpture.
Samuel John Peploe, Ben More from Martyrs Bay, Iona, c. 1925
Important historically because of its origins in William Hunter’s collection, which included works by Rembrandt, Chardin, Stubbs, it has developed particular strengths in Whistler, Mackintosh and Scottish Art, especially the Glasgow Boys and Scottish Colourists.
The Mackintosh House is an integral part of the Gallery and comprises the meticulously reassembled interiors from the house occupied by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his artist-wife Margaret Macdonald from 1906 to 1914. The interiors are furnished with Mackintosh’s original furniture and fitments and decorated as closely as was possible to the original.
The Hunterian Print Room houses the largest collection of works on paper in Scotland, with four principal strengths: artist’s prints covering all major masters from 1450 to the present; drawings and watercolours by Charles Rennie Mackintosh; prints, watercolours, pastels and drawings by James McNeill Whistler; and a collection of mainly British drawings and watercolours.
Although sculpture makes up only a small part of the collection, there are a number of important portrait sculptures and a small display of modern works by British artists in the outdoor Sculpture Courtyard.
The Hunterian illuminated manuscripts and printed books are in the care of the University Library.
ARCHAEOLOGY, WORLD CULTURES AND HISTORICAL
The Hunterian houses the finest body of Roman material in the west of Scotland, from the periods of military occupation in the first and second centuries AD, including many ‘distance slabs’, altars and gravestones from forts on the Antonine Wall. There is also a major collection of artefacts from excavations at brochs and other settlements of the Scottish Iron Age.
Artefacts presented by local collector A. H. Bishop in 1914 and 1951 cover the development of human activity in Scotland and western Europe from the earliest hunters and fishermen to medieval times. Smaller bodies of material illustrate the early civilisations of Egypt and the Mediterranean world.
The internationally important ethnographic collection has its origin in ‘first contact’ objects acquired by William Hunter from the pioneering voyages of Captain James Cook to the South Seas and the north-west coast of North America in 1769-80. It also includes Pacific Islands material acquired by missionaries in the 19th century.
The historical collection includes medieval and modern pottery, Scottish and English glass and pewter, medallions by James and William Tassie, and death-masks.
COINS AND MEDALS
The Hunterian houses one of the world’s great coin collections, containing almost 80,000 coins, medals, tokens and related objects.
Around 30,000 are from the original collection of Dr William Hunter put together at the end of the 18th century, when it was second only in importance to the French Royal Collection. Today it is Scotland’s premier collection in this subject.
The collection contains Ancient Greek, Roman, Medieval and Modern coins as well as medals from the Renaissance to contemporary Scotland. Many of these are unique or extremely rare and most are in superb condition.
The collection is extensively used for teaching and research, and several catalogues covering its major holdings have been published.
MEDICINE AND ANATOMY
These collections are unique medical teaching material amassed by William Hunter in his career as anatomist, obstetrician and doctor. They differ from other parts of The Hunterian collection in that they represent things which Hunter and his school made and used professionally rather than acquired for leisure interests.
Hunter’s 18th century plaster and lead cast of the gravid uterus
The collections comprise wet preparations of human tissues and organs, skeletal material and some animal taxidermy specimens. Both Pathology and Anatomy also have considerable amounts of post-Hunter material and this includes comparative (animal) anatomy specimens, fine 19th century wax models and specimens made using recent techniques such as corrosion and plastination.
Some of the most striking specimens in the Anatomy collection are those associated with William Hunter’s research leading to his most significant contributions to the advancement of medicine. Outstanding examples include the series of life size plaster casts of dissections showing the pregnant uterus, as illustrated in Hunter’s great work, ‘The Anatomy of the Gravid Uterus Exhibited in Figures’ (1774). Hunter contributed a great deal to the understanding of the lymphatic system and his mercury-injected preparations of lymphatic tissue are both beautiful and illuminating.
The Pathology material has elegant preparations particularly in the areas of birth defects and infectious diseases such as syphilis and tuberculosis that were commonly contracted, poorly understood, incurable and a challenge to the medical profession at that time.
ROCKS AND MINERALS
The Hunterian has over 120,000 rock and mineral specimens in its collections, as well as around 1500 cut gemstones, and 70 meteorites.
The mineral collections include several very important older collections including those of William Hunter (one of the few surviving 18th century mineral collections), Thomas Brown of Lanfine (Scottish and world minerals), Frederick Eck (South American, and world minerals), James ‘Paraffin’ Young (world-wide), Frank Rutley (world-wide; the author of Rutley’s Elements of Mineralogy), and Alexander Thoms (mostly Scottish).
Particular areas of strength include Leadhills-Wanlockhead minerals, Scottish Carboniferous zeolites, greenockite, old East European mining localities, old South American mining districts, Australian gold deposits, and gemstones.
The rock collections include much material resulting from the research activities of University of Glasgow geologists over the past two centuries. Particular strengths include Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands; Iceland, Jan Mayen and Spitzbergen; J. W. Gregory collections including Yunnan, Burma, and Australia, meteorites (including the High Possil meteorite which fell in Glasgow in 1804); G.W. Tyrrell’s collections from Russia, Iceland, and Scotland; building stones, Alex Herriot’s collection of magnificent thin-sections and rocks, and a huge range of other research, teaching and display rocks from around the world.
The Hunterian is home to a diverse collection of scientific instruments dating from the early 18th century to recent technology from the late 20th century.
The earliest apparatus and equipment, which pre-date the formation of The Hunterian in 1807, are teaching and research instruments once used at the University of Glasgow.
Many objects come from William Hunter’s own lifetime, when the Professor of Natural Philosophy (the subject now known as Physics) was John Anderson, nicknamed ‘Jolly Jack Phosphorus’ by his students.
Perhaps the most significant piece from this era is a model Newcomen steam powered atmospheric engine that James Watt tried to repair in 1763. It was his failure to coax the machine back to optimum capacity that sparked his invention of the separate condenser, the component that led to rapid expansion in British industry.
Model Newcomen Steam Powered Atmospheric Engine
The collection’s considerable 19th century holdings centre around the experimental apparatus and patented inventions of Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), and the material given to him by contemporaries such as Hermann von Helmholtz, and James Joule. In the 1870s, Kelvin created the first purpose built teaching laboratory, which was considered highly revolutionary.
The medical instruments at The Hunterian include capsule collections such as the British Medical Ultrasound Collection, the Glasgow College of Nursing, the Royal Infirmary Lister Ward and the surgical equipment of medical pioneers such as William Hunter and William Macewen.
Material from the 20th century includes items associated with the chemist Frederick Soddy (father of isotopes), and a large group of mechanical and electronic calculators.
The University of Glasgow was founded in 1451, making it Britain’s fourth oldest university. The Hunterian is home to the memorabilia of famous staff and students.
Silver box engraved with the University seal
Star items include the University’s silver-gilt mace dating from 1465, the silver Loving Cup and Quaich, the 18th century Blackstone Chair used for oral examinations, and the model steam engine which led the young mathematical instrument-maker James Watt to the invention of the ‘separate condenser’, sparking off the Industrial Revolution, as well as medical and scientific equipment used in teaching over the centuries.
There are also fitments and fragments from the structure of the ‘Old College’ built in the 17th century and demolished in 1870.
The Zoology Collections represent most of the major groups of animals but with particular strength in the insects. Of the 600,000 specimens, 90% are insects.
Dire Wolf skeleton
The historical core of the collection is William Hunter’s natural history material of which shells, insects and corals survive today.
Important additions to entomology were made by the acquisition of the extensive J. J. F. X. King (1923) and T. G. Bishop (1933) collections. University staff in the Department of Zoology added significant material in the areas of economic, medical and regional (Scottish) entomology.
Outwith the entomology collections, and reflecting its growth as a University teaching and reference collection, there is broad coverage of the animal kingdom with good mammalian osteology and a spirit collection of several thousand specimens representing mainly invertebrates and the lower vertebrates.
Other notable study collections include John Graham Kerr’s South American lungfish, local Mollusca, Himalayan bird skins and the Hansell collection of animal artefacts (bird and insect nests and other constructions).