Mat Collishaw, Tracey Emin & Paula Rego: At the Foundling

27 January 2010 - 09 May 2010

One of the most successful acts of commission I have witnessed from a historic institution.” Waldemar Januszczak, Sunday Times Culture

Throughout the Foundling Museum, inside and outside, Mat Collishaw, Tracey Emin and Paula Rego installed works of art that resonated with the extraordinary story of the Foundling Hospital. Each of these distinguished artists has made remarkable works over the years with subject matter that lies at the heart of the Foundling story; pain and anguish associated with aspects of childhood, motherhood, abortion and loss. The exhibition included paintings, works on paper, bronzes and installations.


Paula Rego made a major new work combining several paintings in the form of a devotional altarpiece with life-size figures of foundling children in the powerful installation Oratorio. Depicting the fall from grace of women in the eighteenth century and the devastating repercussions, this work combines images of seduction, rape and infanticide with a specific reference to Hogarth’s famous Gin Lane, on permanent display in the Museum, as well as little scenes of childhood tenderness. Rego also displayed seven preparatory drawings for Oratorio. Alongside these were seven works on paper by Tracey Emin from her book One Thousand Drawings.

Mat Collishaw exhibited photographic works including his series Idle Young depicting Indian street children with eighteenth century backdrops. Collishaw also showed works within the traditional spaces of the Museum including a lightbox image, Children of a Lesser God, referencing the narrative of Romulus and Remus as children nurtured by savage wolves, and a new snowdome work made especially for the Foundling.


Tracey Emin’s works included items from her series Baby Things, discarded baby items, such as a tiny sock, mitten and a teddy cast in bronze. These were originally shown as part of the Folkestone Triennale in 2008 highlighting the issue of teenage pregnancy. Emin also exhibited text and personal ephemera in the historic spaces of the Museum relating to memories of family and lost children alongside some of the tokens left by mothers with their babies at the Foundling Hospital.

The backdrop of the Foundling with all its traces of so many children given up for care, especially the poignant tokens left by mothers in the hope of reunion one day, lent an extra element to Collishaw's lightboxes and photographs of children in extremis, Emin's extraordinarily powerful and autobiographical references to loss and Rego's disturbing and touching new history of a group of foundlings. The exhibition also continued and developed the tradition of artists generously supporting the Foundling. In this spirit, with the help of an individual donor, Tracey Emin gave one of her works to the Museum as a permanent installation; Baby Things, Mitten an understated bronze piece outside the Museum on the railing behind the sculpture of Thomas Coram.

Curator, Gill Hedley


Foundlings and Fledglings - Our Angels of this Earth, 2009, argon by Tracey Emin © Todd White Art Photography

Detail from Oratorio, 2008-09, mixed media by Paula Rego © The artist

Oratorio, 2008-09, mixed media by Paula Rego © The artist

Baby Things, Teddy Bear, 2008, bronze cast by Tracey Emin © Todd White Art Photography

Idle Young 5, 2005, digital print by Mat Collishaw © The artist


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