The Foundling Museum

Established in 1739 as a home for abandoned children, the Foundling Hospital became a cultural melting pot and London's first public art gallery.

The Foundling Museum

The Foundling Museum

The Foundling Hospital was established by Captain Thomas Coram, a retired sailor who was so moved by the plight of children abandoned on the streets of London that he set up a home for them. Among its influential supporters in the early years were the composer George Frideric Handel, who conducted benefit concerts for the Hospital, and William Hogarth, who donated several works of art and encouraged other artists to follow his example. 

The Hospital ceased to exist in 1954, but the charity, now named Coram, still works on behalf of vulnerable children. The Foundling Museum was established in 1998 to house and care for the remarkable collections.

Permanent collections

Although the museum is housed in a 20th-century building, it contains Rococo interiors and furniture from the original Hospital. The collections cover 18th- and 19th-century art, memorabilia from the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, and items relating to the 27,000 children who passed through the Foundling Hospital's doors. In the magnificent Court Room are four large scale biblical paintings by Hogarth, Francis Hayman, Joseph Highmore and James Wills, and roundels depicting topographical scenes of London Hospitals by artists including Gainsborough, Samuel Wale and Richard Wilson. Inset into the chimney piece is a marble relief by John Michael Rysbrack.

Some of the most poignant items on show are the small tokens – everyday items such as buttons or coins – that mothers attached to their babies' clothes when they left them in the care of the Hospital so that the infants could be identified if their parents were in a position to reclaim them later.

Art Funded works

Hogarth's action-packed March of the Guards to Finchley, a canvas crowded with comic incident showing guards setting off to protect the capital from the advance of Bonnie Prince Charlie's troops, was acquired in 2002 with an Art Fund grant of £100,000. 

A more humble amateur piece – an 18th-century embroidered sampler by the 10-year-old Sarah Ann Quartermain, who was probably a foundling – is a charmingly naive evocation of the Hospital buildings and inmates. It entered the collection with Art Fund help in 2010.

Art we've helped buy at The Foundling Museum

Venue details

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

Entry details

Free with National Art Pass (standard entry £7.50)

Tue – Sat, 10am – 5pm
Sun, 11am – 5pm