Chosen by Sue & Lin, Museum volunteers

About the object

In this painting, a foundling girl is brought into the Committee Room to be reunited with her mother. In the emotion of the moment, the mother has dropped the receipt she received when the child was first admitted, which is the evidence for her claim.

Some children were claimed by their birth family, but it was extremely rare. Although the scene is an idealised fiction, Emma Brownlow has depicted her father (the Hospital’s Secretary, John Brownlow) behind the table, watching over proceedings. The Illustrated Times, a weekly newspaper of the time, described this as ‘a very capital portrait of the secretary himself’. Visible on the wall behind him, the artist shows some of the paintings in the Hospital’s collection, including William Hogarth’s painting, The March of the Guards to Finchley.

About the artist

Emma Brownlow was born in 1832, the youngest of the three daughters of John Brownlow, the Secretary of the Foundling Hospital. John Brownlow was himself a foundling who had excelled at administration, training and working within the Secretary’s office before rising to that role.

Emma Brownlow was a self-taught, modestly successful professional artist, exhibiting regularly in London and regional art exhibitions, and several times at the Royal Academy. She exhibited and sold oil paintings, but also made working preparatory drawings and studies in pencil, watercolour and charcoal. Her first known exhibited work was The Foundling Girl, shown at the Royal Academy in 1852. In 1858 one reviewer described her as ‘a young artist of promise’. This was the year in which she painted The Foundling Restored, perhaps the most successful of her scenes of life in the Hospital.