The Fallen Woman

Made possible through our crowdfunding platform, Art Happens, this exhibition explores the devastating repercussions for Victorian women who 'lost their innocence' outside of wedlock.

Often forced out of her home or workplace into destitution, prostitution or suicide, the 'fallen woman' was a popular theme in 19th century art and literature as Victorian moralists warned against the consequences of losing one’s virtue.

As Britain’s first charity for abandoned children, the Foundling Hospital had been taking in infants since the mid-18th century. A century later, in line with the prevailing moral climate, it changed its admissions policy: now first-time mothers of illegitimate babies had to prove they were of previous good character.

The heartbreaking stories of these women’s lives form the basis for the Foundling Museum’s new exhibition. Original testimonies and small tokens left by these desolate mothers are presented alongside the mythologised images found in popular prints and illustrations of the time, as well as works of art from Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Richard Redgrave and GF Watts.

Added poignancy is given to the dedicated exhibition space, known as the Committee Room, in which interviews were conducted in order to ascertain a woman’s ‘suitability’ to have her child taken in.

Don't miss

Drawing on material found in the Foundling's archives, musician and composer Steve Lewinson has created a new sound installation that brings the women’s voices to life.

Venue details

The Foundling Museum 40 Brunswick Square London WC1N 1AZ 020 7841 3600

Entry details

Free entry with National Art Pass (standard entry £7.50)

Tue – Sat, 10am – 5pm
Sun, 11am – 5pm

Reviews (1)

  • Sarah, Chesham
  • 29 December 2015 - 22:42
  • A fascinating, poignant and thought provoking exhibition. The rest of the Museum is also excellent, and the staff very friendly and knowledgeable. I particularly enjoyed the 30 minute documentary with reminiscences from former Coram girls and boys, some of whose details are also in the museum exhibits, and the musical armchairs in the Handel room!