Farewell to the Ladies


When the Art Happens campaign was launched in February 2018, it was hard to imagine the true impact that Ladies of Quality and Distinction would have. We never dreamed that we would beat our target by 86% in March, and we've been thrilled by the positive feedback from the press and nearly 10,000 members of the public who have visited the show.

Kicking off in September, Ladies of Quality & Distinction received glowing praise in many publications, including The Art Newspaper and The Times. This admiration and enjoyment of the exhibition spread to our visitors too. Guests were inspired by the stories of these women who had, until so recently, remained in the shadows of the Foundling Hospital’s history. In the year marking the centenary of women’s suffrage, the Foundling Museum was delighted to bring these women, from duchesses and countesses to cooks and maids, to the fore.

We hosted a number of public events to complement the exhibition, which were enjoyed by young and old alike. Researchers from Birkbeck’s Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies ran a Wikithon in the museum, editing pages of the featured Ladies as a part of Being Human festival. A number of talks were held, from panels of female authors to a tour by 18th-century specialist (and key researcher for the exhibition) Elizabeth Einberg. Artist Isobel Manning ran children’s workshops encouraging responses to the female figures in the Foundling Hospital’s history from our younger visitors.

Whilst it saddens museum staff, volunteers, and visitors alike to see the Ladies leave our Picture Gallery, we are excited to say that we will not have to say goodbye to them all. Thanks to the generosity of Lord Egremont, we will be able to keep the portrait of Charlotte, Duchess of Somerset — the first Lady to sign Thomas Coram’s petition — on display for another year.

Moreover, we are delighted to announce that due to the support of Art Fund, the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, The Friends of Thomas Coram and a number of individual donors, the Foundling Museum has been able to acquire Andrea Soldi’s portrait of Isabella, Duchess of Manchester, on a permanent basis.

We are thrilled that this portrait will enter our collection, and become a fitting legacy of the 21 women whose bravery and empathy helped create the UK’s first children’s charity, as well as the exhibition that has inspired so many.

Thank you again for your wonderful support and we hope to welcome you back to the museum soon.

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