Grace Pailthorpe

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Grace Winifred Pailthorpe
Born29 July 1883
Died19 July 1971(1971-07-19) (aged 87)
St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex
Known forArtist, surgeon and psychoanalyst
SpouseReuben Mednikoff

Grace Winifred Pailthorpe (29 July 1883 – 19 July 1971) was a British surrealist painter, surgeon, and psychology researcher.

Early life and World War I[edit]

Pailthorpe was born in St Leonards-on-Sea in Sussex in 1883.[1] She was the third child and the only daughter among the ten children born to Edward Wright Pailthorpe, a stockbroker, and Anne Lavinia Pailthorpe née Green, a seamstress, who were both members of the Plymouth Brethren, a strict and puritanical religious sect.[2][3] The Plymouth Brethren were a separatist sect and the children were all home-schooled to limit their exposure to wider society.[3] After Edward Pailthorpe died in 1904 the family moved to Southport in Lancashire.[3]

Pailthorpe enrolled at the Royal College of Music in 1908 but soon decided to study medicine and by 1914 had qualified as a doctor at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle upon Tyne with a degree awarded by Durham University.[4] During World War I she served, with some distinction, as a surgeon at military hospitals in London, Paris and Liverpool.[3] In 1915 she worked, alongside both Henry Tonks and John Masefield, at the Hôpital Temporaire d'Arc-en-Barrois in the Haute Marne district of France, and during 1916 Pailthorpe worked as a surgeon at the Scottish Women's Hospital in Salonika.[4]


After the war, Pailthorpe travelled extensively across the world, including four years spent working as a district medical officer at Youanmi in Western Australia between 1918 and 1922.[5] She also worked as a medical officer for a gold mining company in Australia.[3] When she returned to England in 1922, Pailthorpe began studying psychological medicine and Freudian analysis. She started research into criminal psychology at Birmingham Prison and, in 1923, with a grant from the Medical Research Council began research at Holloway Women's Prison.[4] The same year she had a paper on delinquent behavior published in The Lancet and became an associate member of the British Psychoanalytic Society. She proceeded to publish books and papers 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, and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.[6] The Association was the first in the world for the scientific treatment of delinquency and counted among its Vice Presidents Carl Jung, H. G. Wells and Sigmund Freud.[7][8] In 1932 she published two papers on her Holloway Prison research and in 1934 resumed taking private patients for psychoanalysis.[4]

In 1935 Pailthorpe met Reuben Mednikoff and together they began research into the psychology of art.[1] Married and living in Port Isaac in Cornwall the couple undertook experiments in psychoanalysis and created surrealist art.[9] Pailthorpe contributed to the International Surrealist Exhibition held in London during 1936 and also contributed to other Surrealist exhibitions and publications, such as the London Bulletin.[10] Her paintings and drawings were greatly praised by, among others, André Breton.[7][11] In 1938 Pailthorpe published The Scientific Aspect of Surrealism which was not well received by other British Surrealist artists.[12] In this, and later works, she put forward the theory that surrealism and psychoanalysis were both means to personal liberation and the development of artistic creativity and freedom of expression.[4][10] She and Mednikoff undertook analysis of each other's art to determine the associations behind each image.[12] Regarding this as an alternative to conventional analysis, they would swop the roles of patient and analyst between themselves every fortnight.[4] Although Pailthorpe presented the results of these unorthodox studies in lectures to colleagues, the studies were not published during her lifetime.[4] After a series of disagreements about organisation and exhibition spaces, Pailthorpe and Mednikoff were "formally" expelled from the British Surrealist group in 1940.[5][10]

In July 1940, Pailthorpe and Mendnikoff left Britain for New York City before spending time in California.[8] From September 1942 to April 1943 Pailthorpe worked at the Essondale Mental Health hospital in British Columbia and in 1944 she and Mednikoff had a joint exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery.[4] This exhibition which contained over eighty works was hugely influential in the development of surrealist art in western Canada.[8] Alongside the exhibition Pailthorpe gave a number of talks on surrealism, one of which was broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.[8] The couple returned to England in March 1946 and from 1948 until 1952 Pailthorpe was a Consultant Psychiatrist at the Portman Clinic, with Mednikoff as her assistant. She also ran a School of Art Therapy from 1950 until 1958 when she moved to Sussex.[4]

Death and legacy[edit]

Pailthorpe died in July 1971. In 1986, Leeds City Art Gallery included Pailthorpe in the major exhibition Angels of Anarchy - Surrealism in Britain in the Thirties and also in their 1992 exhibition Women Artists of the British Surrealist Movement, 1930-1990.[4] A joint retrospective with Mednikoff, Sluice Gates of the Mind was held at the same gallery in 1998.[5] In 2021 exhibition, Fertile Spoon, at the Bosse and Baum gallery showed works by Pailthorpe alongside works by the contemporary artist Mary Stephenson.[12]


  1. ^ a b Frances Spalding (1990). 20th Century Painters and Sculptors. Antique Collectors' Club. ISBN 1 85149 106 6.
  2. ^ Catherine Milner (24 January 1998). "The eeriest couple in art". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 20 January 2015. Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Grace Pailthorpe: the early years". The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. 2021. Retrieved 22 November 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Nigel Welsh & Andrew Wilson (Eds.) (1998). Sluice Gates of the Mind, The Collaborative Work of Pailthorpe and Mednikoff. Leeds Museums and Galleries. ISBN 090198163X.
  5. ^ a b c David Buckman (2006). Artists in Britain Since 1945 Vol 2, M to Z. Art Dictionaries Ltd. ISBN 0 953260 95 X.
  6. ^ "History;-Centre for Crime and Justice Studies". Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  7. ^ a b Patrica Allmer, ed. (2009). Angels of Anarchy, Women Artists and Surrealism. Prestel / Manchester Art Gallery. ISBN 978-3-7913-4365-5.
  8. ^ a b c d Michel Remy (1999). Surrealism in Britain. Ashgate. ISBN 0 75460 041 6.
  9. ^ "Reuben Mednikoff". Peter Nahum At the Leicester Galleries. Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  10. ^ a b c Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg. Blast to Freeze, British Art in the 20th Century. Hatje Cantz Publishers. ISBN 3-7757-1248-8.
  11. ^ Robin Garton (1992). British Printmakers 1855-1955 A Century of Printmaking from the Etching Revival to St Ives. Garton & Co / Scolar Press. ISBN 0 85967 968 3.
  12. ^ a b c Philomena Epps (27 April 2021). "Between Grace Pailthorpe and Mary Stephenson: the mysterious logic of dreams". Art UK. Retrieved 22 November 2021.

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