Looking back on The Fallen Woman

Looking back on The Fallen Woman

Now that The Fallen Woman has come to an end, we look back at this major exhibition on the myth and reality of the ‘fallen woman’ in Victorian Britain.

In an age when sexual innocence was highly valued and sex for a respectable woman was deemed appropriate only within marriage, the loss of chastity for an unwed woman had multiple repercussions. The figure of the ‘fallen’ woman was popularly portrayed in art, literature and the media as Victorian moralists warned against the consequences of losing one’s virtue.

This exhibition drew together the work of artists including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Richard Redgrave, George Frederic Watts and Thomas Faed, who considered the subject of the fallen woman in their work and helped propel the myth. In addition, newspaper illustrations and stereoscopes demonstrated how depictions of the fallen woman in popular culture also helped define a woman’s role and limitations within society.

The exhibition also explored the written petitions of women applying to the Foundling Hospital at the time. During the early nineteenth century, London’s Foundling Hospital changed its admission process to focus on restoring respectability to the mother. Only the petitions of previously respectable women bearing their first illegitimate child were considered. A specially-commissioned sound installation by musician and composer Steve Lewinson offered a new and engaging interpretation of the Hospital’s archive and brought the women’s voices to life. Learn more about the work here.

The Fallen Woman was curated by Professor Lynda Nead in collaboration with the Foundling Museum’s curatorial team and ran from 25 September 2015 – 3 January 2016.

This exhibition was funded by the Art Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and Verita. We would also like to thank the following supporters: The London Community Foundation and Cockayne – Grants for the Arts, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The Idlewild Trust, Old Coram Association, The Honorable Eugene Johnston III, Jim Moyes, David Pike, Frederick & Connie Sheetz, The Maas Gallery, The Midtown Business Club and The Fallen Woman Exhibition Supporters’ Circle.

We are currently developing the past exhibitions section of our website. Come back soon for more information, pictures and documents relating to The Fallen Woman.

In the meantime why not:


View a selection of the paintings that were displayed in the exhibition, in our online gallery:


View a selection of the petitions that were displayed in the exhibition, in our online gallery: