Collection of Deans’ Portraits Captures HKUMed’s Progress Over 135 Years
Strong and innovative leadership has been integral to the success of the Li Ka-Shing Faculty of Medicine since our founding 135 years ago.
To acknowledge the important contributions of our 31 current and former Deans of Medicine, a collection of their portraits was commissioned by Anthony Cheung and gifted to the Faculty in celebration of our 135th anniversary.
Displayed on the sweeping staircase in the Faculty Administration Wing, the collection tracks the Faculty’s evolution from a small medical college to its current position as one of the world’s top medical schools and home to leading researchers.
The oil paintings were created by Brendan Fitzpatrick, a Hong Kong-based figurative artist.
Tracing our history from Sir Patrick Manson, the founding Dean of Medicine for the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese, the Faculty’s forerunner, to Professor Gabriel Leung, Dean of Medicine since 2013, the portraits follow the Faculty through its different iterations.
Aided by extensive research into each dean, Fitzpatrick created the portraits through archival photographs supplemented by sittings by living deans. The deans who visited his studio in turn gave anecdotes about their former colleagues, providing further pointers on the personalities of each subject.
Fitzpatrick said he relished diving into the background of Sir Patrick, who is known as the father of tropical medicine for his research into the role of the mosquito in malaria and other parasitic diseases.
This extensive study informed his decision to include mosquitoes in the background of the portrait as well as his choice to dress Sir Patrick in a lounge suit with the appropriate tailoring for the period.
“I decided to match him in something that would have felt a bit more appropriate as a balance of a Scotsman who loved the country with a green, sort of flannelly Tweedy colouring, as well as the combination of a … very urban man living in Hong Kong.”
Fitzpatrick said he paid special attention to the portrait of Professor Rosie Young, who was the first woman to hold the position of Dean of Medicine. Describing his impression of Professor Young from his research as “less dean, more force of nature”, he was careful to depict these aspects of her character.
“With these glinting eyes, this head tilted slightly down as though she is ready to tackle any issue and any challenge that’s going to obstruct her path,” he said, describing the finished portrait.
Professor Young’s portrait also gave Fitzpatrick the chance to play with colour as her clothing incorporates reds and golds, unlike the muted shades worn by the male Deans.
Moving to the current day, the portrait of Professor Leung employs a monochrome colour palette and touches on recent events with a nod to how Hongkongers have seen the public health expert appear at press conferences throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the portrait, Professor Leung wears his white coat over a black turtleneck and holds a facemask in clasped hands.
“I think that maybe the public is the most familiar with Professor Leung out of the deans because of this public role that he’s had as a health advisor,” Fitzpatrick said. “It would have felt wrong to portray him as a pure academic.”
The black and white bisected background of Professor Leung’s portrait has multiple meanings, one of which is to depict the transition from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to a world where COVID-19 is endemic.
Fitzpatrick explained that the decision to display the portraits in a salon-style hang means each piece was created to compliment and harmonise with the pieces either side as well as above and below.
In addition to considering the position of each painting in relation to one another, he also took note of the multiple viewing angles afforded by the position of the gallery on the stairwell and toned down the framing for pieces closer to the balcony.
“There’s this smorgasbord of different framing styles that flow a bit like a gorgeous album that you can listen to with some big crescendos around pieces that really require the eye to lend their attention to them,” he said. “And then some more subtle pieces as well, that decide to take the back seats so that you can kind of allow your eye to continue gliding onwards.”
The portraits represent not only the individual deans, Fitzpatrick said, but also the challenges they overcame for the Faculty as their many successes.
“These characters that have all played their part, that have all helped move [the Faculty] one step forward,” he said.
Take a closer look at the portraits here.