Featured gallery: Sir Alexander Fleming's Germ Paintings

Sir Alexander Fleming was awarded the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery (in the late 1920s) of the antibiotic penicillin. In addition to being an accomplished microbiologist, Dr. Fleming was one of the first to explore microbial art by creating “germ paintings” using living bacteria.

According to Adams and Hendry (2002):

“In microbiology, Alexander Fleming has achieved immortality through his discovery of penicillin but his artistic side is perhaps less well known. He was a lifelong member of the Chelsea Arts Club, a private club for artists of all genres, founded in 1891 at the suggestion of the painter Whistler.

Fleming’s artistic reputation however lies less in any remarkable artistic (in)ability he possessed rather than in his innovative approach to painting. As far as we can determine, he was the first to use pigmented bacteria as an alternative to more conventional media such as water colours or oils.

Even in Fleming’s time this technique failed to receive much attention or approval. Apparently he prepared a small exhibit of bacterial art for a royal visit to St Mary’s by Queen Mary. The Queen was “not amused and hurried past it” even though it included a patriotic rendition of the Union Jack in bacteria.”

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The colour images were kindly provided by Kevin Brown of the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum (Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust).