Quentin Blake is one of Britain’s best-loved and most successful illustrators, well known for illustrating stories by Roald Dahl and being Britain’s first Children’s Laureate. This exhibition of over sixty works enabled visitors to reflect on artists’ continuing contribution to hospitals and child welfare. The Museum’s art collection, spanning more than four centuries, provided visitors with an unexpected and resonant backdrop; one that situated Blake within a tradition of great artists making work for hospitals.
The four series of pictures by Blake were displayed throughout the Foundling Museum. Our Friends in the Circus (2009) series depicts images of senior circus characters – jugglers, tightrope walkers, fire-eaters and clowns – celebrating the longevity of well-practised talents. This series was from a mental health ward for older adults at Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow.
Blake’s series Ordinary Life (2010) for the Vincent Square Eating Disorder Clinic, London, celebrated the quiet poetry and pleasures of everyday life. Characters engage in activities such as feeding birds on a windowsill, walking a dog, shopping in a street market and painting a self-portrait.
The third series Planet Zog (2007) saw alien creatures and young people playfully swap doctor and patient roles. Planet Zog was displayed in waiting areas and public spaces in the Alexandra Avenue Health and Social Care Centre, South Harrow.
The biggest of Blake’s hospital projects, Mothers and Babies Underwater (2011) was created for the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Angers, France. The new maternity building was decorated with a series of fifty drawings appeared throughout, including the midwife station, father’s room and the delivery suites. In them, mothers and babies swim together underwater, and look at each other for the first time. It’s a parallel world where their swimming expresses and celebrates their new-found liberty after the pains of labour. The exhibition was accompanied by a short film in which Blake discussed the hospital commissions and his broader artistic practice.
If you are keen to find out more about Quentin Blake’s fantastic works, then you can also read about our 2021 exhibition with him – Quentin Blake: Gifted.