The Foundling Museum

The Foundling Museum

‘A seaman, a composer and painter, and the moving story of the charity they started 270 years ago. It is a recipe of art and care, which still looks after kids today. Coram, Handel, Hogarth, what’s not to love?’

Grayson Perry CBE, 2010 Foundling Fellow

The Foundling Museum tells the story of the Foundling Hospital, the UK’s first children’s charity and first public art gallery. We aim to inspire everyone to make a positive contribution to society, by celebrating the power of individuals and the arts to change lives.
Our history
The Foundling Hospital, which continues today as the children’s charity Coram, was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for babies at risk of abandonment. After 17 years of tireless campaigning, Thomas Coram finally received a Royal Charter from King George II in 1739, enabling him to establish his Foundling Hospital to care for and educate some of London’s most vulnerable citizens. 
Instrumental in helping Coram realise his vision were the artist William Hogarth and the composer George Frideric Handel, who helped establish the Hospital as one of London’s most fashionable venues. Hogarth encouraged leading artists of the day to donate work, thereby establishing the UK’s first public art gallery. Handel donated an organ and conducted annual benefit concerts of Messiah in the Hospital’s chapel. Their creative generosity set the template for the ways in which the arts can support philanthropy.
From 1741 when the first babies were admitted, to 1954 when the last pupil was placed in foster care, the Foundling Hospital cared for and educated around 25,000 children.
The Foundling Museum today
The Foundling Museum opened in 2004. The building at 40 Brunswick Square was constructed in the 1930s on the site of the Foundling Hospital, and incorporates many architectural features from the original eighteenth-century building.
Today, the Museum tells the story of the Foundling Hospital through a dynamic programme of thought-provoking exhibitions, contemporary art commissions, collection displays and historic archives. Our Collection tells a story about the children who lived at the Hospital, how they came to be there, how they were looked after, and how the Hospital was established and run. It is also a story of how, from the very beginning, the Hospital was supported by London’s vibrant artistic community.
The Collection
The Collection spans the eighteenth to the twenty-first century, and enables visitors to make connections between the past and the present. Many of the stories and themes are as relevant today as they ever were.
The Collection encompasses everyday objects used in the Foundling Hospital; books, documents and records, musical scores and librettos, photographs and oral history recordings, as well as significant works of art, clocks, furniture and interiors many of which were created especially for the Hospital and donated by their makers. Some of the most moving objects are the identifying tokens left by mothers with their babies in the Hospital’s earliest years.
Among the artists who supported the Foundling Hospital were William Hogarth, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds and the composer George Frideric Handel. The Collection includes paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures created and donated by Hogarth and others, as well as the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, an internationally important library and archive relating to Handel and his musical contemporaries. Objects include Handel’s will, and the manuscript score of Messiah which he bequeathed to the Foundling Hospital.
When the Hospital was demolished in 1926 and relocated outside of London, the Committee Room, Court Room, Picture Gallery and staircase were reconstructed in what was the charity’s London headquarters and is now the Museum. The furnishings of these rooms, including the plasterwork, fireplaces, furniture and clocks, were also made for and donated to the Hospital by leading craftsmen of the day.
Artists and the Foundling Museum
Artists are central to the Foundling Hospital story and the spirit of the institution’s Artist Governors lives on in the work the Museum does today. Newly commissioned works of art by some of the UK’s most celebrated artists sit alongside work from collaborative off-site projects with contemporary artists, writers and musicians, casting a new light on the Foundling Hospital story.
Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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