Exhibition

A Tale of Mother’s Bones: Grace Pailthorpe, Reuben Mednikoff and the Birth of Psychorealism

12 April - 23 June 2019


A Tale of Mother’s Bones tells the remarkable story of a unique artistic and personal collaboration. After meeting at a party in 1935, Dr. Grace Pailthorpe (1883–1971), a trained surgeon, and Reuben Mednikoff (1906–1972), an artist and designer, began collaborating on a project that would bring together art, writing and psychoanalysis in an attempt to create a better society.

Initially associated with Surrealism and praised by Andre Breton as ‘the best and most truly surrealist’ of all the British artists,  they made wildly experimental paintings and drawings which they then subjected to psychoanalytic interpretation; developing a creative practice that they called ‘Psychorealism’.

This is the first exhibition to bring together Pailthorpe and Mednikoff’s extraordinary drawings and paintings, alongside their often challenging interpretations. Featuring over 80 works spanning nearly four decades, this show examines their earliest experiments with Surrealist processes, their response to the rise of Fascism in interwar Europe, and the way in which they approached gender, relationships, psychology and spirituality, from progressive and often radical positions.

Curated by Hope Wolf, University of Sussex, with Rosie Cooper, De La Warr Pavilion, and Camden Arts Centre.

Supported by The Pailthorpe & Mednikoff Exhibition Circle

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Grace W. Pailthorpe (1883 –1971) was a British painter, surgeon, and psychology researcher. Qualifying as a doctor in 1914, she served with some distinction as a surgeon at military hospitals in London, Paris and Liverpool during World War One. After the war, she travelled extensively across the world and upon returning to England in 1922, embarked on studying Freudian analysis, criminal psychology and delinquent behaviour. She published works on the psychology of delinquency and in 1931 established the Association for the Scientific Treatment of Criminals, which eventually became the modern day Portman Clinic, now based within the National Health Service in Camden, London.

In 1935, Pailthorpe met Reuben Mednikoff (1906–1972). He was a trained artist and designer who had studied at St Martin’s School of Art and shortly, after meeting, they moved to Cornwall to begin what would become a life-long creative project researching the psychology of art. Initially creating surrealist art and contributing to the International Surrealist Exhibition in London (1936), the pair received great praise for their paintings and drawings.

However, by 1940, the pair had been formally expelled from the group, due to their assertions that creating Surrealist art had the capacity to bring unconscious memories into consciousness, thereby applying a more scientific rationale to a movement which championed the very opposite.

Due to the split, the rise of fascism and the outbreak of World War Two, the pair decided to leave England, travelling to New York, California and then Vancouver, where they developed the discourse of surrealism and staged Canada’s first ever Surrealist exhibition.

Returning to England in 1946, Pailthorpe became a Consultant Psychiatrist at the Portman Clinic in 1948 with Mednikoff joining her as her assistant. She also ran a School of Art Therapy from 1950 until 1958 when they moved to Sussex.

The couple died one year apart from one another in 1971 and 1972.