A painting by Saied Dai of Dame Jacqueline Wilson, one of our first Foundling Fellows, has been commissioned for the Museum by Dame Stephanie Shirley CH. Saied Dai’s painting is the first commissioned portrait of a woman to enter the Foundling Museum Collection. This commission is part of our year-long celebration of women’s contribution to British society, culture and philanthropy from the 1720s to the present day, to mark the centenary of female suffrage.
The acquisition of this painting represents an important landmark in our ongoing programme of commissioning and exhibiting contemporary art, and continues the involvement of contemporary artists in the historic Founding Hospital’s historic story. From its establishment in 1739, the Foundling Hospital was supported by leading British artists, especially William Hogarth, who galvanised painters and sculptors of the day to donate work, thereby creating the UK’s first public art gallery. Contemporary artists are central to the Foundling Hospital story and we reflect this though our work with contemporary practitioners of every discipline, including writers, visual artists, filmmakers, musicians and designers.
Dame Jacqueline has a long-standing relationship with the Museum, having been appointed as one of our first Foundling Fellows in 2008. Inspired by the Hospital’s great supporters – philanthropist Thomas Coram, composer George Frideric Handel and artist William Hogarth – our biennial Foundling Fellowship enables outstanding creative individuals to devise a project that animates the relationship between philanthropy, creativity and children’s welfare. For her Fellowship, Wilson researched the Hospital’s history and developed her first historical novel, Hetty Feather, which was published in 2009. Immensely popular with her young audience, Hetty has gone on to feature in five books which have sold millions of copies around the world. The popularity of the Hetty Feather books has led to an Olivier Award-nominated stage show and BAFTA- nominated CBBC television series.
Caro Howell, Director of the Foundling Museum said: ‘In her commitment to enrich young people’s lives, Dame Jacqueline Wilson powerfully embodies the spirit of William Hogarth. Thanks to Hetty Feather, thousands of children visit the Founding Museum each year, to take part in creative activities and learn more about the Foundling Hospital story.’
Jacqueline Wilson said: ‘I’ve been very happily associated with the Foundling Museum since they first made me a Fellow in 2008. It’s been the inspiration for my books about a Victorian child, Hetty Feather, and the venue for many special talks to children. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been round the Museum and been moved to tears by some of the exhibits. I am so pleased and proud that the Museum staff have chosen me to be the subject of Dame Stephanie Shirley’s generous commission – and delighted that Saied Dai has produced such a stunning portrait.’
Saied Dai said: ‘It is a privilege to be entering the fine art collection at the Foundling Museum and not without irony, in that both Dame Stephanie and I have come from backgrounds where we so easily could have been inhabitants of such an institution.’
The painting has gone on display today, hanging amongst the many portraits of the Foundling Hospital Governors that line the