Permanently revolutionising our 280-year-old collection, we commissioned five major artists to create portraits of five exceptional sitters – former pupils of the Foundling Hospital – to hang alongside the grand paintings of the Hospital’s Governors and benefactors, giving care-experienced children visibility and voice within the story of British art and culture.
Established in 1739, the Foundling Hospital cared for babies at risk of abandonment. It was the UK’s first children’s charity and continues today as Coram. The surviving former pupils were admitted to the Hospital in the 1940s and ‘50s. Ensuring these last direct links to the past could be captured forever gave us the drive to undertake this project, which received generous support from Art Fund and through a public campaign.
Our remarkable art collection is rooted in the eighteenth century, when under the leadership of the artist William Hogarth, contemporary artists, musicians and craftsmen, donated their work to support the Foundling Hospital. Thanks to the artists’ involvement, the Hospital became the UK’s first public art gallery and led to the founding of the Royal Academy.
Over 200 years, the Hospital admitted approximately 25,000 children but until now, not one was represented in the Museum’s collection, making the children an absent presence and the portraits of the great and the good that line the gallery walls, a very ‘top down’ telling of history.
Reflecting the calibre of the eighteenth-century artists who donated their works to help the children, and the importance of the sitters who embody the historic story of care, we commissioned five exceptional photographers to each create a portrait of a former pupil of the Foundling Hospital: Jillian Edelstein, Mahtab Hussain, David Moore, Ingrid Pollard and Wolfgang Tillmans.
Jillian Edelstein (b 1958), Edelstein’s portraits have appeared in publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Time, and have been exhibited internationally, including at the National Portrait Gallery, The Photographers’ Gallery, The Royal Academy and Les Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie, France. Edelstein was awarded the Photographers’ Gallery Portrait Photographer of the Year Award, the John Kobal Book Award and in 2018, the Royal Photographic Society voted her as one of the ‘Hundred Heroines’ - women from across the world who are transforming photography. Edelstein photographed Henry, 84, who entered the care of the Hospital in 1942.
Mahtab Hussain (b 1981), is an artist whose work explores the important relationship between identity, heritage and displacement. Hussain’s many awards and commissions include Ikon Gallery, New Art Exchange, Arts Council England and Arts Humanities Research Council. He was the 2015 Light Work + Autograph ABP Artist-in-Residence, the 2016 ‘discovery artist’ under the prestigious Discoveries Award at Houston FotoFest and in 2017, his book, You Get Me? won the Light Work Photobook Award. Hussain photographed John, 85, who was in the care of the Hospital until 1952.
David Moore (b 1961), described as a ‘Northern Eggleston’ by the writer, Sean O’Hagan, Moore’s work uses and interrogates documentary modes and looks at the agency of the subject within historical and contemporary contexts. Moore has exhibited widely, including the Photographers’ Gallery, the Royal Academy, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of Photography, Film and TV, Bradford, and his work is held in many public and private collections. Moore photographed Lydia, 87, at the Foundling Hospital’s Berkhamsted site, where she lived from the age of 5-15.
Ingrid Pollard (b 1953), uses portraiture and traditional landscape imagery to explore social constructs, such as Britishness and racial difference. A co-founder of Autograph, the Association of Black Photographers, Pollard’s career has encompassed ground-breaking shows including Pastoral Interludes and Tradewinds2007. She was the inaugural Stuart Hall Associate Fellow at the University of Sussex, received the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award in 2019 and in 2020, the Freelands Foundation Award with MK Gallery. Pollard has photographed Jocelyn, who is 87.
Wolfgang Tillmans (b 1968) is regarded as one of the most influential artists working within photography today. Since the early 1990s his work has epitomized a new kind of subjectivity in photography and expanded conventional ways of approaching the medium. Tillmans has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Turner Prize and the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography. He has had prominent solo exhibitions at numerous international institutions and his work is held in museum collections worldwide. For this project, Tillmans photographed Ruth, 84, who entered the Hospital in 1942.
Accompanying the project is a documentary film, The Sitting, by director Gilly Booth, which animates the story of these remarkable sitters and artists, bringing an extra layer of visibility and voice to the lives of the 25,000 children that this project commemorates.