An exhibition exploring how illustrators from European folklore and fiction have brought to life fictional characters who are orphaned, adopted, fostered or found
Drawing on Childhood brought together the work of major illustrators from the eighteenth century to the present day, who have created powerful images of characters in fiction who are orphaned, adopted, fostered or found.
The exhibition considered how illustrators of different generations have chosen key moments in stories from European folklore and fiction, and brought these child heroes to life. Exploring alternative childhoods, the show was inspired by Lemn Sissay’s 2014 Foundling Museum commission, Superman was a Foundling, which focused on the importance of looked-after children in popular culture.
Original drawings, first editions and special illustrated editions were displayed, featuring characters as diverse as James Trotter (James and the Giant Peach) who was orphaned as a young boy, Hetty Feather, who lived at the Foundling Hospital, and Rapunzel, whose parents gave her up as a child. Two original illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert for the 1961 edition of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach were exhibited, alongside Arthur Rackham’s original 1919 drawing of Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother. Major illustrators and artists whose work was displayed included Quentin Blake, George Cruikshank, David Hockney, Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), Arthur Rackham, Thomas Rowlandson, Nick Sharratt and Stref.
To accompany the loaned works, artists Pablo Bronstein, Chris Haughton and Posy Simmonds were invited to produce new illustrations for Henry Fielding’s novel The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, first published in 1749.
“Henry Fielding was a friend of Hogarth and deeply sympathetic with Thomas Coram’s cause to care for London’s abandoned children. The main character of his novel, Tom Jones, is a foundling portrayed with a likeable personality we can identify with, a well-meaning but flawed character. We don’t identify with characters who are all good or all bad, it’s the well intentioned but imperfect characters that pull at the heart strings.”
– Chris Haughton on A Good Countenance is a Letter of Recommendation, 2015
“I chose a setting which stood out more than the others for me, not only because it was the moment of the play of the highest drama –the unfolding of the potential Greek tragedy, but also because that particular setting, the prison scene, was typical of eighteenth-century culture in London. How would Hogarth have illustrated Tom Jones? He would undoubtedly have made much of the prison scenes.”
– Pablo Bronstein on Gatehouse Prison, 2015
“Tom Jones is a rich brew of libertines, prudes and hypocrites: the characters, drawn slightly larger than life, have a cartoonish quality. And so, having always been a fan of the work of Hogarth and Rowlandson, I decided my illustration would have an eighteenth-century flavour, in both the drawing and the text.”
– Posy Simmonds on Virtue, Charity, 2015
★ ★ ★ ★ A small but impactful show
★ ★ ★ ★ A lovely lunch-hour trip down memory lane for literature lovers
- Contemporary Commission