The Foundling Museum has been gifted, through Art Fund, a portrait by the celebrated eighteenth-century artist from the Northern Netherlands, Mattheus Verheyden (1700-1776), the first known work of his to enter a UK public collection.
The portrait, which was previously in a private collection, depicts Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland (1701-1779), who was one of Thomas Coram’s key, catalytic, female supporters in his campaign to establish the Foundling Hospital.
Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland was one of Coram’s ‘21 ladies of quality & distinction’ who, in the face of male indifference and risking society’s disapproval, put their names to the first petition submitted to King George II in 1735, calling 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. They enabled his campaign to gain the critical momentum that led to the establishment of the UK’s first children’s charity in 1739.
In 2018, the Foundling Museum’s exhibition, Ladies of Quality & Distinction, brought portraits of the 21 eponymous Ladies together for the first time. Prior to Ladies of Quality & Distinction, the Museum had only three portraits of women linked to the Hospital, compared to over 50 paintings and sculptures of men. The exhibition led directly to the acquisition of the first portrait of one of the 21 Ladies, that of Isabella, Duchess of Manchester, 1738, by Andrea Soldi, an acquisition that was 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 individual donors
So the Museum is absolutely delighted to be gifted the portrait of Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland. In addition to being the last of the 21 Ladies to sign Coram’s petition, she was a remarkable patron and collector of fine and decorative arts and natural history, and a member of the Bluestockings.
Since Ladies of Quality & Distinction closed, every effort has been made to retain the prominence of women in the Hospital’s origin story. Acquiring this portrait significantly extends our ability to explore the vital role that women played in establishing and running the Hospital, by making them visible and individualised within the collection displays.
The portrait will go on display along with the Duchess of Manchester and two other portraits of the ‘21 Ladies’, which are on long-term loan. These paintings are an important milestone in the Museum’s ongoing programme of acquiring and exhibiting art that reflects its mission, to celebrate the power of individuals and the arts to change lives.