A painting by celebrated 18th-century artist Andrea Soldi of Isabella, Duchess of Manchester, one of Thomas Coram’s key female supporters who provided the catalyst for the establishment of the Foundling Hospital, will hang in the Museum’s Picture Gallery. This is a significant acquisition for the Museum, being the only portrait of a key female supporter of the Foundling Hospital, prior to its foundation in 1739, to enter the Foundling Museum Collection and one of the first paintings of a woman to hang permanently in the Picture Gallery.
On 6 January 1730, the Duchess of Manchester became the fifth Lady to sign Coram’s petition. Her husband would subsequently put his name to the Royal Charter in 1739. This acquisition is complemented by two other paintings of women. A portrait of Charlotte, Duchess of Somerset (the petition’s first signatory) attributed to Charles D’Agar, on loan to the Museum from Lord Egremont, is joined by a portrait of Beatrice Forbes, one of the Foundling Hospital’s five female Governors, painted in 1906 by William Carter. Together, these three paintings are a landmark in the Picture Gallery’s permanent display, which until now has never included a portrait of a woman. Surrounded by paintings of the male governors who were the public face of the charity, these three portraits enable visitors to appreciate the crucial role that women played not only in establishing the Foundling Hospital, but also in shaping British society.
The acquisition follows the success of our year-long programme in 2018 that marked the centenary of female suffrage. In particular, our exhibition Ladies of Quality & Distinction which featured the portrait of Isabella, Duchess of Manchester, alongside portraits of the other 21 Ladies who were Thomas Coram’s first supporters. In the face of male indifference and risking society’s disapproval, these women put their names to the first petition submitted to King George II in 1735, that called for the establishment of a home for ‘abandoned and deserted young children’. The support of these pioneering women was crucial in overcoming moral concerns about Coram’s project, enabling his campaign to gain the critical momentum that led to the establishment of the UK’s first children’s charity.
The acquisition of the portrait of the Duchess of Manchester has been made possible with the help of Art Fund, the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, The Friends of Thomas Coram, and a number of generous individuals donors.