William Hogarth (1697-1764) devoted over twenty-five years of his life to the Foundling Hospital, becoming the leading artistic contributor to the Foundling Hospital Art Collection. Donating paintings to be displayed in the Foundling Hospital, Hogarth encouraged his contemporaries to do the same, leading to the creation of the Foundling Hospital Art Collection and England’s first public art gallery.
Born near Smithfield Market in London, Hogarth spent a brief period of his youth apprenticed to a silver plate engraver before enrolling in St Martin’s Lane Academy in 1720. Here Hogarth was brought into contact with other artists, particularly James Thornhill. Hogarth later married Thornhill’s daughter Jane, and took over the St Martin’s Lane Art School on Thornhill’s death. An extremely ambitious artist, Hogarth established himself as a painter of portraits, historical paintings and ‘modern moral subjects.’
Before his involvement in the Foundling Hospital, Hogarth painted, free of charge, two murals for St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. The murals led to Hogarth securing commissions for portraits of several eminent physicians. He saw the Foundling Hospital as a further opportunity for self-promotion in the era before public art galleries. The donation of his portrait of Captain Thomas Coram in 1740 was the first work to enter the Foundling Hospital Art Collection. Hogarth’s vision to create a collection of contemporary British Art at the Hospital led to the involvement of artists such Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, Francis Hayman, Joseph Highmore, Thomas Hudson, Allan Ramsay and John Michael Rysbrack.
Hogarth was central to the creation of the Court Room, which can still be viewed in the Museum, with its four large history paintings and eight smaller roundels depicting charitable institutions in London. Hogarth’s painting Moses Brought Before Pharaoh’s Daughter, 1746, was revealed in the unveiling of the Court Room at a public dinner on 1 April 1747. The Foundling Hospital and its Art Collection became a popular attraction, reflecting the increasing charitable awareness of eighteenth century society.
A third Hogarth, painting which is displayed in the Committee Room, is The March of the Guards to Finchley, 1749-50. The painting entered the Foundling Hospital via a lottery. Subscribers to the engraving of the painting could purchase a ticket for an extra 3 shillings which would enter them in a lottery for the original painting. Hogarth gave the remaining unsold tickets to the Hospital which included the winning ticket.
William Hogarth’s involvement in the Foundling Hospital went beyond artistic contribution. Devoting many years to the institution, Hogarth was a Governor of the Foundling Hospital from the beginning. He served as an active member of the Court of Governors as well as of the General Committee. He designed the Foundling Hospital’s coat of arms, the children’s uniforms and was also the Inspector for Wet Nurses in Chiswick, assisting with the Hospital’s administration of its childcare.
Gulielmus Hogarth by T. Cook after William Hogarth, 1801 engraving, black ink on paper © Coram in the care of the Foundling Museum
Moses Brought Before Pharaohs Daughter, 1746 by William Hogarth (1697-1764) © Coram in the care of the Foundling Museum
Detail from The March of the Guards to Finchley, 1749-50, by William Hogarth (1697-1764) © The Foundling Museum