RSVP was the first major contemporary art show at the Museum, and continued the tradition begun by Hogarth to encourage emerging contemporary artists – such as Gainsborough and Reynolds – to submit their work for display. At that time there was little exhibition space available for artists in London and the Hospital, set up as place of ‘polite assembly’, was one of society’s most fashionable venues. The rich and powerful were encouraged to come and view the pictures as well as the children, with the hope that they might commission works from one of the exhibiting artists and contribute to the work of the Hospital.
The RSVP artists were all from the East of England and the exhibition was part of Arts Council England East’s Escalator Visual Arts programme, a pioneering talent plan that found, supported and invested in the best artistic talent in the region, offering support at pivotal points in artists’ careers. The Foundling Museum once again served its purpose of bringing new work by regional artists to the attention of the London art world, much as it did for Gainsborough, himself from the East Anglian town of Sudbury, who produced his first well-known work The Charterhouse (1748) for the original Foundling exhibition at the age of 21.
Curator Gill Hedley, previously Director of the Contemporary Art Society, said: “I have long been fascinated by the Foundling story, not least because artists at the time the Foundling Hospital was set up supported the charity as well as cleverly creating a platform for their own works of art”.
The project was initiated and developed by Commissions East, the visual arts development agency for the East of England. Commissions East has a track record of creating innovative relationships between contemporary artists and historic settings. “The collaboration enables artists based in the East of England to work with an internationally renowned venue,” said David Wright, Director. “A previous project, Stay, in 2005 at the Great Eastern Hotel, London, involved eleven artists, such as Susan Gunn, and Richard DeDomenici, who successfully used the opportunity as a springboard for their careers”.