The two paintings will be shown in London for the first time in a generation. The loans form part of the Makins Collection, a private collection based in the USA, which includes stunning 19th-century works by John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones and Holman Hunt. We are borrowing two key works on the theme of the fallen woman.
Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s 1857 watercolour The Gate of Memory considers the theme of urban prostitution. A decade earlier, Rossetti had written Jenny, a poem about a prostitute presented in a sympathetic manner and he went on to explore the theme in his large oil painting Found, which he worked on through the 1850s. In The Gate of Memory Rossetti uses the language of filth and contagion to connote a loss of purity in the woman. The image shows a young, guilt-ridden prostitute standing under an archway peering out at a group of young girls playing on the street. The contrast between her situation and the youthful purity and potential of the young girls she watches is poignant. This work will be shown towards the end of the exhibition as we consider the consequences for women after losing their virtue in an age when sexual innocence was so highly valued. It has been estimated that prostitutes in mid-19th century London had a life expectancy of six years (once they started working), so her future, unlike that of the children at play, looks bleak.
The second international loan coming from the Makins Collection is Frederick Walker’s The Lost Path (pictured), his first work exhibited at the Royal Academy. Although Walker initially made his name as an illustrator, during the 1860s he turned his attentions towards painting. The subject of this work is a woman struggling to carry her baby through a snowstorm, the painting’s title indicating that her physical distress at losing her way in the storm mirrors her emotional distress by having ‘lost her way’ through having an illegitimate child. The image of a woman and her child cast out by family and society and struggling to survive in the bitter weather is one picked up on by other artists and illustrators in a variety of mediums, several of which will also be seen at the Foundling Museum this autumn as part of The Fallen Woman exhibition.
Thanks to you – our Art Happens donors – we are planning to bring these paintings to the UK. Your donations are invaluable in helping us realise this important exhibition, and bringing together artworks which illustrate the stories of women whose circumstances resonate with those of the mothers who gave up their babies to the Foundling Hospital.
Thanks for your support!