The Foundling Museum acquires major works of art by two of the UK’s most celebrated artists

A large-scale painting by Sir Michael Craig-Martin, RA and a sculpture by Yinka Shonibare MBE, RA have been acquired by the Museum, thanks to grants from Art Fund and the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Fund Grant, and other supporters.

Craig-Martin’s 2×2 metre Tricycle, 2016 is the first major painting to enter the Museum Collection in 94 years, while Shonibare’s Trumpet Boy, 2010, is the first major sculpture to enter the Collection in 163 years. These acquisitions represent an important landmark in the Museum’s ongoing programme of commissioning and exhibiting contemporary art, and continue the story of contemporary artists’ involvement with the historic Founding Hospital.

In 2016 we commissioned Michael Craig-Martin to make a new work in response to our story and Collection. Painted in his signature bold, graphic style, Tricycle reminds visitors of the thousands of children who passed through the Foundling Hospital, most of whom are only known through the anonymous traces they left behind – uniforms, identification tags, plates, cutlery and the small everyday objects their mothers left with them as tokens. Tricycle was originally displayed in the Picture Gallery between September 2016 and February 2017, offering a point of imaginative departure in a room dominated by portraits of the Hospital’s eighteenth-century governors, and notable for the lack of reference to the foundling children. The painting is now installed at the top of the Hospital’s eighteenth-century oak staircase.

Yinka Shonibare MBE has a long-standing relationship with the Museum, having been appointed a Foundling Fellow in 2012. Trumpet Boy was exhibited at the Museum in 2016 as part of FOUND, the critically-acclaimed exhibition curated by Cornelia Parker, and speaks to the education and training Foundling Hospital children received. Dressed in Victorian clothes made from bright ‘African’ textiles, and with a head made from a celestial globe whose stars have been renamed after famous black musicians, the sculpture is a metaphor for the universal and unifying nature of music, and the ability of education to transform lives. Trumpet Boy also reflects the role that music played at the Foundling Hospital. The celebrated composer George Frideric Handel was a major supporter, writing the Hospital’s Anthem and conducting annual benefit concerts of Messiah in its Chapel. Foundlings were also taught music and many boys belonged to the Hospital’s Boys’ Band, which enabled them to pursue careers in the military and travel the world via the regimental bands.

These acquisitions continue the Museum’s tradition of inviting contemporary artists to reflect on the Hospital’s story, providing a space for twenty-first century artists to enter into a dialogue with their eighteenth and nineteenth-century forebears. From its establishment in 1739, the Foundling Hospital was supported by leading figures in British art, in particular William Hogarth, who galvanised painters and sculptors of the day to donate art to the Hospital, thereby creating the UK’s first public art gallery. In addition to providing a platform for established and emerging contemporary artists to show their work, the Hospital became the seedbed for the establishment of the Royal Academy of Arts. Contemporary artists are therefore central to the Foundling Hospital story and we reflect this though our work with contemporary practitioners of every discipline, including visual artists, film makers, musicians and designers.

Caro Howell, Director of the Foundling Museum said: ‘These two acquisitions enable the Museum to tell the story of how contemporary art and artists transformed the fortunes of the eighteenth-century Foundling Hospital and how in turn, the Hospital helped shape the contemporary art world that we know today.’

Michael Craig-Martin said: ‘I am pleased and honoured to have my painting Tricycle in the Foundling Museum’s historically distinguished Collection.’

Yinka Shonibare MBE said: ‘I am particularly excited that Trumpet Boy is now in the Foundling Museum Collection. Handel, one of the Governors of the Foundling Hospital, will be pleased.’

Both artworks are now on display at the Museum amongst the historic Collection. The acquisitions have been made possible with the help of the Art Fund and the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund. The Art Fund also supported the acquisition of William Hogarth’s painting The March of the Guards to Finchley, the first work acquired by the Museum in 2005.

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