Collection History

Romy Dwosh, GEN, Eric 2007, earthenware with nuts, 19 x 15 x 15 cm, Cunningham Dax Collection


The only Collection of it's type and size in Australia and only one of four such collections in the world, the Cunningham Dax Collection is named after its founder Dr Eric Cunningham Dax (1908 – 2008).

Dr. Dax was an English psychiatrist who was appointed as the Chairman of the Mental Hygiene Authority in Melbourne in 1952.  In this role Dr. Dax made many positive changes to Victoria’s mental health services.  One such change was to introduce an art therapy program into Victorian psychiatric hospitals.

Victoria’s psychiatric hospitals began to be closed down in the 1980s and the thousands of artworks that had been created in the art therapy programs may have been destroyed.  However, Dr. Dax believed that these were very valuable as educative tools.  So he salvaged around 8000 of these works, which is how the Cunningham Dax Collection began.

Two distinct eras are represented in the Cunningham Dax Collection; artworks produced within psychiatric hospitals from 1940s into 1970s and artworks donated to the Collection by artists and community groups from 1980s until the present.

In the early 2000s the Collection expanded to include artworks made by people who have experienced psychological trauma.  This expansion led to a number of group donations, including the Childhood Abuse Collection, the Holocaust Collection, the Tsunami Collection, the Safe Havens Asylum Seekers Collection and the Bushfire Collection.

The Collection Policy for The Dax Centre can be accessed here.

The Dax Centre’s approach to sharing orphan works from the Collection can be found here.

You can explore the Collection and it’s sub collections further here


Click on a date below to learn more about the history of the Collection

Source: ‘Recovering Art: a history of the Cunningham Dax Collection’, Belinda Robson, 2006


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