Foundling Museum

I had no idea what to expect before Claire took me to the Foundling Museum. Being just around the corner from Great Ormond Street hospital, where I was able to take a few hours lieu time with Claire on her day off, I was just happy to be leaving work while it was still light and doing something with the time.

Foundling Museum

The Foundling Museum states on its website that it is “Britain’s original home for abandoned children and London’s first ever public art gallery” – and this really sums up what this museum is all about. It has obviously spent a huge amount of money, most recently on the part of the museum concerned with its past as the Foundling Hospital (read home for abandoned children – not for ill children), but it really has a schizophrenic character. On one hand there is a relatively small space (in comparison to the rest of the museum) for a creative, informative and ultimately engaging display discussing the Foundling Hospital’s foundation, history and children. On the other hand there are numerous rooms with a variety of Georgian artwork (and a temporary space with a modern installation which would have been more at home in the Tate Modern), which feel like they barely relate to the Hospital’s reason for being, and with little interpretation.

There is a good reason while this separation exists. Hogarth, the famous Georgian artist who’s financial help made the Foundling Hospital possible, used this building as the first gallery in London to help promote and sell works of art. So while abandoned children might have been the beneficiaries of the charity of the upper class, the design of some of the building and the artwork displayed was there to please potential buyers and donaters. Now of course it is hard to criticise such class differences now – before the Foundling Hospital’s foundation unwanted and illegitimate children were often abandoned and left to die by their desperate mothers, so any improvement helped start the long and slow development to the child obsessed society we now live in.

Having said that, the Museum still feels like it is lost in a class war. The room about the children is post-modern with good interpretation and is not afraid to explore some of the more difficult issues associated with the hospital – if somewhat apologetic (e.g. that the abuse of children did exist and that though better fed than when on the streets the children was mostly malnourished). The rest of the Museum is modern, with little interpretation, and really is just a gallery – with no discussion on its relevance to the children. It made me all quite cross. Looking back to the 18th century, you can forgive that the upper classes may have seen themselves above these poor and desperate children, but you get the feeling that the curators of this Museum are very much still treating these worlds as separate entities.

What I would have liked to have seen is the differences between the grandeur of the art rooms, compared to the living conditions of the children discussed, what is happening with child poverty now, the roll of the modern orphanage, and maybe even a probing into the ethics and morals of charity now and then. A great opportunity missed and a wonderful space wasted, in my humble opinion, on a Georgian Art lovers gallery.

Challenge 166 and 289, 19/1000 completed



~ by lethaniol on 13/12/2009.

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