Curated by Dr Jacqueline Riding, this exhibition explored Georgian attitudes to love, desire and female respectability through the radical paintings of Joseph Highmore
Curated by Dr Jacqueline Riding, Basic Instincts explored Georgian attitudes to love, desire and female respectability through the radical paintings of Joseph Highmore.
A highly successful artist and Governor of London’s Foundling Hospital, Joseph Highmore (1692-1780) is best known as a portrait painter of the Georgian middle class. However, during the 1740s his art radically shifted, reflecting his engagement with the work of the new Foundling Hospital and its mission to support desperate and abused women. Highmore’s involvement with the Hospital sparked engagement with issues around women’s vulnerability to sexual assault and society’s unwillingness to support them, culminating in a work of exceptional power, The Angel of Mercy.
Basic Instincts was the first major Highmore exhibition for 50 years and explored this decade of disruptive social commentary in his art. Amongst the works on display were four paintings from a series of twelve, inspired by Samuel Richardson’s international bestseller, Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, explicitly making reference to the abuse and sexual violence at the core of the novel. On public display in the UK for the first time as part of Basic Instincts was a remarkable painting that still retains the power to shock. The Angel of Mercy (c.1746) depicts a desperate mother in the act of killing her baby, with the distant Foundling Hospital presented as the alternative. Set among Highmore’s tender portraits of mothers and children, family and friends, this show uniquely demonstrated the artist’s depth and variety.
This select group of paintings by Joseph Highmore lifts the veil on the darker aspects of love and sex in Georgian London
The Foundling Museum brings Joseph Highmore out of the shadows
‘The Angel of Mercy’ still has the power to shock and, sadly, tells a very modern story